A Finnish newspaper is circumventing Russian media restrictions by hiding news reports about the war in Ukraine in an online game popular among Russian gamers.
“While Helsingin Sanomat and other foreign independent media are blocked in Russia, online games have not been banned so far,” said Antero Mukka, the editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat.
The newspaper was bypassing Russia’s censorship through the first-person shooter game Counter-Strike, where gamers battle against each other as terrorists and counter-terrorists in timed matches.
While the majority of matches are played on about a dozen official levels or maps released by the publisher Valve, players can also create custom maps that anyone can download and use.
The newspaper’s initiative was unveiled on World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday.
“To underline press freedom, [in the game] we have now built a Slavic city, called Voyna, meaning war in Russian,” Mukka said.
In the basement of one of the apartment buildings that make up the Soviet-inspired cityscape, Helsingin Sanomat hid a room where players can find Russian-language reporting by the newspaper’s war correspondents in Ukraine.
“In the room, you will find our documentation of what the reality of the war in Ukraine is,” Mukka said.
The walls of the digital room, lit up by red lights, are plastered with news articles and pictures reporting on events such as the massacres in the Ukrainian towns of Bucha and Irpin.
On one of the walls, players can find a map of Ukraine that details reported attacks on the civilian population, while a Russian-language recording reading Helsingin Sanomat articles aloud plays in the background.
This was “information that is not available from Russian state propaganda sources”, Mukka said.
Since its release on Monday, the map has been downloaded more than 2,000 times, although the paper cannot currently track downloads geographically.
“This definitely underlines the fact that every attempt to obstruct the flow of information and blind the eyes of the public is doomed to fail in today’s world,” Mukka said.
He said an estimated 4 million Russians played the game. “These people may often be in the mobilisation or drafting age.”
“I think Russians also have the right to know independent and fact-based information, so that they can also make their own life decisions,” he added.