Ukraine News Smuggled to Russia in Videogame Map

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Journalists from the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat found a way around Russia’s media censorship surrounding the war in Ukraine, by hiding news about the war on a map in the popular online multiplayer game Counterstrike.

According to Cybernews, the journalists created a secret room in a game map for Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CS: GO), which is a tactical first-person shooter that is massively popular in Russia. This game has not been banned in the country, and about a tenth of all people playing it are estimated to be Russian.

The custom-built map has been named “de_vonya” and according to cybersecurity firm Malwarebytes, it ranks among the most popular maps in early May.

However, researchers noted that accessing the room was very challenging, and it took them multiple attempts to finally enter it in the game. When playing the game, if a player is killed they float around the map like ghosts and can pass through walls and doors, and only players who died in the game can access the room, the others are faced with a locked door.

Once a player enters the room, they find a screen saying “Counterstrike of the free press. This room contains independent journalism that is forbidden in Russia.” The room contains many kinds of information forbidden in the country, like a document mapping the Kemlin’s strikes on civilians in Ukraine, or information about mass graves left by the Russians.

Russia launched a full-scale war against Ukraine in February 2022. However, the Kremlin prohibits calling the conflict a “war” and instead describes it as a “special military operation.”