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In the face of Russian aggression, Ukrainian game developers remain hopeful, pragmatic

‘Everyday life in Kyiv goes on, but under a shadow of what may come’

Ukraine Independence Square
A view of the Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine on Feb. 18, 2022.
Photo: STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Game developers across Ukraine are preparing for the worst on Tuesday as Russian brinksmanship continues along the country’s eastern border. Over the past week Polygon has reached out to more than a dozen teams in that country. Many say they are making contingency plans to protect their staff. Others hope to remind the world that they have been living with war not for hours or days, but for eight long years.

In 2014, following weeks of protests in Kyiv and across Ukraine, more than 100 Ukrainians died in what would later be called the Maidan revolution. As a result, Ukrainian legislators voted to remove the country’s pro-Russian president, an event which Russian president Vladimir Putin labeled an illegal coup. Later, as a new regime settled into place, Putin annexed the eastern province of Crimea. The result has been a protracted conflict throughout that region, with many skirmishes and small battles kicking off over the better part of a decade.

Tensions have escalated over the past month, with more than 190,000 Russian troops massing all along the border — including in Belarus, to Ukraine’s north.

“The current situation on the borders with Russia is tense, and we [have seen] multiple provocations happening over the last few days,” wrote Oleg Yavorsky, business development director at Kyiv-based Vostok Games, on Monday night. “We shouldn’t forget though that Ukraine has been in this state of aggression from Russia since 2014, and over 14,000 people [have been killed in that time]. So, unfortunately, we already got used to [living] in this state of danger.”

Yavorsky called his team and their families the company’s most precious resource, and said a plan for potential relocation has already been made. Many other gaming and technology firms are making similar plans.

“We continue to work as usual (work is a nice distraction from news, actually),” wrote Yaroslav Singaevskiy, lead game designer at Red Beat, on Friday. “Everyday life in Kyiv goes on, but under a shadow of what may come. No one is making any long-term plans at the moment. Honestly, things get surreal sometimes. And we learn to appreciate normal mundane things more (such as a peaceful family dinner).”

“The situation reminds me of 2014 in general,” Singaevskiy continued. “There are a lot of uncertainties, rumors, and fakes. [...] The main difference is the state of the Ukrainian army that is much more capable, trained and prepared now thanks to eight years of an ongoing war. Support from the West — especially during the last several weeks — is crucial too.”

Speaking as an individual rather than as a representative of his company, 4A Games owner Andrew Prokhorov remained hopeful yet pugnacious.

Oleg Yavorsky behind Voxtok Studios with a large bust of Stalin.
Oleg Yavorsky behind Vostok Studios in 2013 with a bust of Vladimir Lenin that had recently been removed from the façade of a nearby building.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

“I believe everything will be fine,” Prokhorov told Polygon in an email late last week. He is currently on personal leave from the company, which is best known for the Metro series of first-person shooters. “Our army is ready, [our] nation is ready, and if [a] sick old man [does decide] to invade they will be kicked out. Especially with the help of a lot of dangerous toys we have received from [the] USA and other western countries. [...] Our Javelins, [and] Stingers, [are] greased, prepared, and waiting for metal food.

“I hope for peace [to end] the situation,” he added, “but if something bad happens victory will be on the side of good guys.”

Late Monday, president Putin once again ratcheted up the tension by recognizing the sovereignty of the breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic — two Ukrainian territories that have been at the center of the conflict since 2014. Russian troops, including armored units, have since moved into the area for what Russia calls a peacekeeping mission. The move has sparked international outcry, including from members of the United Nations.

Polygon will continue to cover the situation as it evolves.

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