A Finnish newspaper is using a video game map to smuggle information about the war in Ukraine to Russian citizens, bypassing Moscow’s propaganda and censorship.
“Since we have been widely concerned about the situation of freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Russia, we have decided that perhaps some new channels can be found to provide the Russian public with reliable and independent journalism, for example about the situation in Ukraine,” Antero Mukka, managing editor of Helsingin Sanomat, told Retuers.
Helsingin Sanomat, the country’s largest newspaper, has struggled to circumvent restrictions on Russian media and has decided to get creative as it also tries to mark World Press Freedom Day, which falls on May 3.
“Because the Russian government has de facto suppressed its domestic press and blocked access to foreign media,” Mukka said, “Counter-Strike has remained one of the rare channels that allows us to communicate independent information to Russians about real events in the war.”
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The newspaper has built a map for the multiplayer first-person shooter game Counter-Strike, which is incredibly popular in Russia. In the level, which is modeled after a war-torn Slavic city, contains a secret room where the newspaper has published images and text detailing the Russian military’s abuses in Ukraine.
The map is called “de voyna”, after the Russian word for war, banned in reference to the Ukrainian conflict, which Moscow claims is a “special military operation”.
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The newspaper also said that Russia blamed the Ukrainian military for the atrocities in Bucha and said that the Russian military did everything possible to help the population. The UN Human Rights Council has opened an investigation into potential war crimes by the Russian military in Bucha.
“If some youngster in Russia, just because of this match, thinks for a couple of seconds about what’s going on in Ukraine, then it’s worth it,” Mukka said.
Since the game allows the user to create and add their own content and upload it, Mukka said the doc created the level without asking permission from Valve, the game’s developer.
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Mukka said the Russian government does not associate video games with media, creating the perfect outlet for the newspaper’s mission. Russia has also not blocked access to Counter-Strike’s servers.
“Ordinary Russians know virtually nothing about the war crimes and atrocities against civilians committed by the Russian military,” Mukka said, according to PC Gamer.
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“One of the most touching stories in the secret room is about a Ukrainian man who went to the store,” he explained. “While he was there, Russian troops killed his family in a rocket attack.”
“The secret room built into the game is meant to force Russian players to face what is really happening in the war in Ukraine.”
Reuters contributed to this report.