On February 24, 2022, Stepan Bandrivskyi awakened earlier than daybreak and acquired prepared for a big day: his birthday.

It wouldn’t be a very joyful one. Hours earlier, a pair dozen miles away, Russian tanks had rolled throughout the borders of his native Ukraine. The full-scale invasion had begun.

Like so many different Ukrainians, Bandrivskyi didn’t know what to do. So he went to work, to the Soledar Salt Mine, a cavernous state-run operation in Eastern Ukraine. Kyiv says it’s the greatest such mine in Europe. His supervisor informed him to go dwelling: The mine was closed. It hasn’t resumed operations since.

Bandrivskyi fled the area not lengthy after, as Russian forces superior. After practically a yr of preventing, throughout which the mines have been changed into bunkers, Russia seized and occupied the city of Soledar—though fierce preventing continues close by. Over time, Bandrivskyi got here to the painful realization that he might by no means see the salt mine, and its eerie and remoted magnificence, ever once more.

Last yr, Bandrivskyi acquired a cellphone name from a colleague. “He invited me to take part in a really fascinating mission,” he says.

The Ukrainian authorities wished to utterly map the mine “and translate it right into a recreation setting,” he says. Bandrivskyi seized the chance. “I wished to maintain it in my reminiscence, and I wished different individuals to have the ability to type of immerse themselves on this world as properly,” he says.

With that, Minesalt was born.

The concept for Minesalt comes from United24, the official crowdfunding arm of the Ukrainian authorities. For practically two years, United24 has raised funds to rebuild residence blocks and buy de-mining gear. Last yr, United24 started transport batches of salt to donors, by way of its “Soledarity” marketing campaign—elevating some $3 million to buy reconnaissance drones.

But because the conflict drags into its third yr, donor fatigue has set in. That has pushed United24 to provide you with new and modern methods of attracting the world’s consideration—and assist.

Minesalt, which launches as we speak, is likely to be their most impressed effort but.

On the left, the Soledar Salt Mine in Ukraine. On the suitable, a recreation of the mine in Minecraft. (Move the slider within the center to see a full view of every picture.)

“It is necessary for us to recollect and speak about each Ukrainian metropolis that’s underneath short-term Russian occupation,” Yaroslava Gres, chief coordinator of United24, informed WIRED in a press release. Last summer time, when a crew instructed bringing Soledar to life as a online game, it was a very simple concept to say sure to.

Built for the wildly standard sandbox recreation Minecraft, Minesalt challenges gamers to race by way of the mine, amassing 140 hidden salt crystals as quick as doable. At the top of the run, a quiz assessments gamers’ recollection of particulars from Soledar. But, like in the remainder of Minecraft, Minesalt gamers may decide to wander at their very own tempo.

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