For nearly two decades, the Call of Duty franchise has digitally immersed hundreds of millions of gamers around the world in increasingly realistic worlds of digital warfare. From the cartel-controlled streets of Brazil to the castles of Scotland, the first-person shooter featured plenty of action-packed settings carefully crafted by the title’s development team. Now, the team responsible for creating some of the biggest and most realistic battlefields in the gaming industry was not far from a real one, just a few miles away.
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In 2018, Infinity Ward announced the opening of the Krakow studio to focus on Call of Duty research and development alongside a Los Angeles-based team. Drobot, then a senior rendering engineer, was hired to run the new office, which was brimming with talent from Eastern Europe. The story made it harder than expected. After the team’s early years were disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic, the invasion of Russia presented another challenge: the Polish studio is just over 800 kilometers from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv .
At the start of the invasion, Infinity Ward engineer Wiktor Czosnowski recalled that the narrative was one in which Russia, “the second largest army in the world”, would overtake Ukraine in the space of three days. Seven months later, the fighting continues with an endgame still difficult to predict.
Shortly after the start of the invasion, hordes of frightened and displaced Ukrainian refugees swarmed Poland’s borders. Drobot and his team of more than two dozen swung into action, offering their homes and resources, including those of the company, to protect the people who left almost everything behind. Drobot saw bursts of fire from artillery blasts in the distance while working with refugees at the border.
Senior associate software engineer Andrew Shurney and his Russian-born wife, Aleksandra Poseukova, lived near a train station where thousands of refugees had camped. The Seattle-born engineer said he was not shy about allowing refugees to use their apartment for as long as needed, offering supplies and a friendly smile when he could. Despite the chaos around them, hospitality was the least the couple thought they could offer to give some hope to those reeling from the conflict.
“In terms of image, I can’t do much, but I can at least help the person who’s sitting across from me, which might not be much, but it’s something. thing,” Shurney said in a video interview with The Washington Post.
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Until a few weeks ago, Shurney welcomed a mother-to-be, nine months pregnant, with her seven-year-old son. When the mother, Katya, was preparing to give birth, the couple were asked to do something Shurney had never expected when he moved to Europe a few weeks earlier: take care of a child.
“[Katya] had known us for two weeks and she had to trust us to take care of her seven-year-old child while she was in the hospital giving birth to her daughter,” Poseukova said. “We bonded fairly quickly, but by force. It was a major adjustment for everyone.
After returning with the newest addition to her family, Katya named Shurney and Poseukova the child’s godparents. The pair smiled during a video interview as they shared their new title, given by a woman they had no previous relationship with.
Shortly after Katya gave birth, Shurney and Poseukova moved to a larger apartment with a guest bedroom. Shurney had no hesitation in inviting Katya’s family of three to stay with them in their new accommodation until they could settle somewhere else more permanently.
“The amount they have to go through is so much more than anything I can handle,” Shurney said in an interview on Activision’s website. last month. “If anyone needs anything, we’ll do what we can. We give them a room.
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Infinity Ward’s Czosnowski was reassured by how the Poles reacted to their new guests.
“That’s the beautiful thing about this whole situation,” Czosnowski said. “How natural it is for two nations to merge from the start. From day zero people started to help and maybe there were voices based on historical issues between our countries but that was drowned out by people who would like to help.
Despite the small moments of happiness members of the Krakow office experience from time to time, the gaps are filled with numbness, anger and at times a sense of despair as civilians try to cope with the impact of the Russian invasion.
“There was a lot of fear and depression when the war started. I was personally scared of how it was going to turn out,” Czosnowski said, his tone darkening when he spoke of the civilian casualties in Mariupol of an attack described as a “war crime” by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Now, six months later, I think there is more anger at the way things are going and the behavior of Russia as a country.”
The tragedies of the invasion continued to plague Ukrainians who escaped across the border.
A family hosted by Czosnowski came to Poland because the son had previously lived in the country, but his mother was undergoing chemotherapy and had to return to Kyiv for her treatment.
“A week ago she passed away [while in Ukraine]said Czosnowski. “And now [her son] can’t even go to his funeral because if you go [back into Ukraine]he can’t come back here [due to a declaration of martial law]. This is [expletive] horrible. When you see how people’s lives are turned upside down and it’s a war for no greater reason on the Russian side, it makes me angry.
Read the Washington Post’s full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis
Poseukova echoed that sentiment. For her part, she tries to offer the work she can to help the refugees earn money.
“I try to hire Ukrainians for different types of services, whether it’s sewing, dog watching or cleaning. Every week I have people come to help me clean. One individual was a relatively successful travel agent, another was a mortgage company manager, and another is a high school teacher. So it makes you humble to see how life can fall apart.
Several people who spoke to The Post said that despite opening their homes to complete strangers, offering their own resources and donating dozens of hours to help out in distribution centers, they felt they could do much more to make a difference.
“I think it’s just kind of an Eastern European thing,” Drobot said, regarding his employees’ opinions. “We’re not always as proud as we should be of the things we do.”
Despite the horrors Infinity Ward team members have seen firsthand or heard from word of mouth, Czosnowski said he’s taken some of the things he’s seen recently on a macro level to heart (he referred to the budding friendship between Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky) and the societal level. As he walks his dog every day, he says he now sees books printed in Ukrainian to help those who encounter a language barrier.
“Sasha, the 13-year-old boy who lived with us, now goes to the local school and was invited by the class,” Czosnowski said. “It was very, very beautiful. [The students] started to learn a few phrases in Ukrainian before coming. When they knew he was coming, the children were waiting for him to help him and treat him not like someone from the outside, but like a real insider.