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Amid war in Ukraine, game developers raise money for aid and denounce Russia

‘Everyone is under an extreme stress’

Refugees From Ukraine Arrive At The Train Station In Poland Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

As Russian president Vladimir Putin continues his devastating and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, the video game industry is rallying to support humanitarian aid efforts inside the country.

In late February, Russian troops moved into Ukraine from the east and from the north, through neighboring Belarus. Fighting has since intensified, with hundreds of casualties, according to CNN. The large-scale assault adds to the more than 14,000 people killed in eastern Ukraine since the 2014 conflict with Russia began. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are leaving the country as refugees, according to the Kyiv Indepedent, as the country nears its full week of intense fighting.

On Feb. 24, the day of the invasion, Ukrainian game studios called for support from the industry, directing people toward fund raising money for the Ukrainian army, as well as humanitarian aid efforts. In the days since, the community has launched a number of initiatives to support game developers in Ukraine and aid efforts there: Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red, based in Poland, has donated more than $235,000 to Polska Akcja Humanitarna, a Polish organization helping refugees and people in Ukraine. Techland, also in Poland, is doing the same. A number of game developers across the world are donating proceeds from sales to humanitarian aid. Polish company 11 Bit Studios kicked off an initiative that raised more than $715,000 in aid. Similarly, Destiny 2 developer Bungie is donating proceeds from its Game2Give drive to support those impacted by the war.

Others, independently, are organizing in Discord to help Ukrainian developers fleeing the country. The group is assisting in border pick-ups, financial support, and housing.

Alex (who asked to use only his first name), a Ukrainian indie developer leading a 12-person studio, told Polygon that the industry can also help by calling for peace.

“We could all use some help in at least trying to stop the war verbally,” Alex said. “The information is twisted, but developers use the internet daily in their lives. Having access to a lot of sources reveals the truth. Help us spread the thread that there is no solution in war.

Protest in Rio de Janeiro against Russian attacks on Ukraine Photo: Fabio Teixeira/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“Let’s create a real world as balanced and pleasant as we tend to craft our experiences in virtual ones,” he added. “Help us. This is something that you will be proud of after we get through this.”

Tymur Solod of Pingle Studios, an outsourcing studio with 250 employees based around Ukraine, wants supporters to know that the war in Ukraine is “a crime against humanity, against the whole world.” He’s also hoping that western supporters in the industry will urge their governments to sanction Russia: “Yes, it might be harmful for the economies, but I guess people’s lives [are] worth it.”

Solod continued: “We want to keep testing Unreal Engine 5 and porting shooter games to consoles, not hiding in bomb shelters and not knowing what happens [in the] next hour. They attack peaceful cities and civilians. The number of civilian victims is being counted in [the] hundreds right now, including children.”

Solod said teams in Kyiv and Kharkiv, where Pingle has offices, have spent nights underground at train stations and bomb shelters. “Kyiv team hears the explosions, sees fire, hears sirens, some guys saw Russian troops, both dead and alive,” Solod said. “We really live through some Call of Duty stuff right now, but it’s real.”

Brandon Sheffield of Necrosoft Games, alongside others, is organizing an bundle that will raise money for the International Medical Corps. and Ukrainian organization Voices of Children. bundles have previously been used to great success in fundraising efforts: the Bundle of Racial Justice and Equality raised over $8 million in 2020, while the Indie bundle for Palenstinian Aid raised nearly $900,000 in 2021. The group organizing for the Bundle for Ukraine is currently looking for game developers interested in submitting their game to the bundle.

The fundraising effort is expected to go live next week.

Yaroslav Singaevskiy, lead developer at Ukrainian studio Red Beat, told Polygon that these efforts by the industry are “greatly appreciated” in helping Ukrainian people get through this.

“Situation is very fluid at the moment,” he said. “Our team is partly in Kyiv, some team members are evacuated from the capital. Work is on pause, because keeping the team safe is a top priority. People in Kyiv have to hide in shelters at least 2-3 times per day and/or spend nights there too.

“Everyone is under an extreme stress,” he added.

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