“Open it! Hurry, or we’ll break down the door!”

Aleksei did not want to let the Russians in, but he did not want to fight with them either.

Huddled in the basement, desperately trying not to alert the occupying soldiers to his presence, the silence was broken by the heavy sound of a rifle hitting the door.

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Armed troops descended the stairs, looking ready to use their weapons.

“We search houses, looking for fascists and saboteurs,” says one. “Do you know any Nazis in this town?”

Aleksei thought about how to answer – is he really stupid? Suggest cheating? Can he dare to tell the corporal that he is being lied to as part of Vladimir Putin’s “special operation”?

Such decisions of life and death have become a feature of life in Ukraine – and the team in Kyiv aims to bring them home for people around the world.

It’s supposed to be a video game, but Call Of Duty isn’t.

Offering three narratives based on first-person experiences and eyewitness accounts, Ukraine War Stories is a collection of interactive visual novels focusing on the survival of the country’s civilians.

Alexey’s confrontation with Russian troops is just one of the big decisions you’ll face, and the developers hope it will humanize the headlines distant observers have been reading on their phones since February.

“Many war games have turned a blind eye to the fact that civilians are suffering,” says Alexander Syanin of Starni Games, an independent studio based in the Ukrainian capital.

“In this project, what civilians go through has become a key focus. Our goal is to inform people all over the world about what is happening here.”

“Suicide Mission”

Ukraine War Stories takes players to the cities of Bucha and Gastomel, suburbs of Kyiv, where mass graves were found was one of the pieces of evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Russian soldiers.

Among those who survived the occupation was Aleksandar Andrashchuk from Stary and his family, who hid from the Russians for a week in the basement of their garage and whose experience went down in history.

“They got out during the evacuation, but the dead were already lying on the streets,” says his colleague.

Such real-life experiences underlie each of the game’s scenarios.

“In one of the stories, you play as a 16-year-old boy and your older sister has been captured,” says Mr Sianin.

“Do you leave her and run with your life, or do you try to save her and it could end badly?”

Another story takes you to Mariupol, a port city devastated by weeks of continuous shelling.

There you take on the role of a medic who is forced to choose who they save – there are too many victims in the hospitals to help them all.

“Doctors should play God,” says the founder of the studio, Igor Tymoshenko.

“No one knew how powerful their missiles would be”

Creating a game is difficult enough under normal circumstances, but in the midst of war?

“Our company was working very well before the war started, and I think we are doing very well now,” says Mr Tymoshenko, with most of the 25-strong team back in the office since June.

Most of the fighting since then has been concentrated in eastern Ukraine, although deadly drone strikes on the city earlier this month were a reminder of how fragile a sense of normalcy is.

“I stood up after Igor called me and said that the war had started,” Mr. Senin recalled on February 24.

“We had a colleague who always came to the office very early, about 6am, so he was there when the war started.

“After that, everyone stayed at home, the first weeks no one worked, we just paid people their salaries, and everyone had to do what they thought was necessary.

“Someone left Kyiv, some stayed. I stayed and the first weeks were tense, there were sirens, missile strikes, no one knew how powerful they were.

“Everyone was hiding in their basements or underground, we spent half the time there, running here and there.

“A lot of people had to leave, but we persevered.”

“We must fight as hard as we can”

For some members of the “Starny” team, the return home was not successful.

One who was working remotely from Mariupol was prevented from reaching other parts of Ukraine when the city was taken, and was instead seen being deported through an infiltration camp to Russia.

They managed to reunite with people they knew, and then fled to Poland.

Mr. Tymoshenko, who eight years ago volunteered to deliver medicine to the front lines of the initial invasion of eastern Ukraine, feels an obligation to bring such stories to the people.

“I thought, what should we do? Sit at home and do nothing?” he says.

“No, we are free men, and we must fight as we can.”

“I’d rather people fight a war in games than in real life”

There is some irony in the circumstances of the release of “Ukraine War Stories”.

It came in the same week that the latest Call Of Duty game debuted, the huge franchise that has turned into an industry by turning modern warfare into immersive entertainment.

Starni Games also has a history in war games – its Strategic Mind series puts players in control of World War II battles.

“I don’t see a problem with people liking something like Call Of Duty,” says Mr Sienin.

“But people need to understand that war is not Call Of Duty.

“This mentality of not covering any problematic issues in games is changing, but slowly. I hope it can transition into something more thoughtful than pure entertainment.

“But look, I’d rather people fight in games than in real life.

“When the Russians threatened our country, I told my colleagues… maybe we should have sent them Insert a copy of Strategic Mind so he can play it on the computer and not have to break into us!”

Currently, Ukraine War Stories has an 88% rating on Steam with almost 200 user reviews.

Critical articles dismissed it as “anti-Russian propaganda.” Others describe it as “sad”.

“Games are, first of all, entertainment, and entertainment gives people some kind of happiness,” Tymoshenko says.

“But war is scary and dirty, and the media should talk about it.”

Ukraine War Stories is now available for free on Steam.