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Ukraine game developers say they’re staying put, with hopes to rebuild

‘When peace comes we will all be needed even more’

A visit by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor to Bucha, Ukraine.
Photo: Fadel Senns/AFP 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.

It’s been more than 50 days since Russia launched its illegal invasion of Ukraine. In just the past few weeks, the battlefield situation has changed dramatically. An armored assault on the capital, Kyiv, has been blunted by dug-in Ukrainian forces. Russian troops have pulled back, redeploying for what experts believe will be a renewed offensive in the Donbas region to the east. The lull in the fighting has allowed some game developers to return to work, something many tell Polygon they now see as their patriotic duty.

“Kyiv is much more alive now,” said Red Beat’s lead game designer Yaroslav Singaevskiy in an email to Polygon last week. “More shops, markets, and coffee [houses] are open for business. Traffic is increasing. It’s even possible to rent a bike or electric scooter again! It is worth mentioning that revitalizing [our] capital is crucial for the economy because Kyiv produces about 20% of Ukraine’s GDP.”

While it relieved some pressure on citizens trapped in the city, the retreat of Russian forces from around Kyiv has also revealed evidence of potential war crimes. In the city of Bucha, for instance, investigators have found evidence of mass killings of Ukrainian civilians. Those atrocities and more prompted United States president Joseph Biden to call Russian president Vladimir Putin “a dictator [who] commits genocide.

“It was a shock for all of us when the first reports from Bucha arrived,” Singaevskiy said. “It’s unbelievable to see such barbaric acts in the modern world. Words simply cannot describe the emotional toll. In addition to that, we expect much worse news from besieged Mariupol, while Russian artillery and air force slowly grind it to the ground. Estimates of civilian casualties [here] are already at 20,000 dead.”

Despite the war, at least one Ukrainian company says it is growing steadily. Pingle Studio added 20% to its headcount since the start of the war.

“Ukrainians are really motivated to work and pay taxes to support Ukrainian economics,” wrote Tymur Solod, content manager at Pingle. But the evolving conflict has made finding safe places to work from a challenge, especially in the east where the cadence of shelling and fighting is now beginning to escalate.

“We evacuated teams and families from the East as fast as it could be done,” said Solod. “All those people had to settle and go back to the working schedule ASAP to keep providing for their families. Some of us chose to evacuate on private transport. But, unfortunately, some really tragic stories took place. But we keep on working and supporting each other. Most of our families are alive and well now.”

“As for leaving the country, it’s not an option for us,” Solod said. It was a recurring theme among the eight studios that Polygon has been in touch with. Every developer we spoke with sees their work as imperative to Ukraine’s eventual recovery.

“We intend to stay here for as long as possible,” wrote Weasel Token founder Alex Molodkin. “Freedom has always been extremely important for Ukrainians, and no one is taking it from us that easily. We believe in our armed forces and the international community’s support — Russia will never prevail because capturing territories is one thing, but our will to fight shall not be extinguished.”

“As it stands Frogwares have no official plans to leave Ukraine,” wrote Paul Milewski, a public relations manager working with that company. Frogwares released its latest Nintendo Switch port, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter, on April 7. “This is where the bulk of our team call home and where their families are. When peace comes we will all be needed even more to help rebuild and the idea of abandoning Ukraine entirely at a time like that is inconceivable.”