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Ukraine opens new front in Minecraft game to tackle alleged Russian misinformation

By Akash Sriram

(Reuters) - War-torn Ukraine on Thursday opened a new front in its battle against alleged Russian misinformation through video games by launching a game that replicates the salt-mining town of Soledar in Donetsk Oblast.

Launched by Ukraine official fundraising platform UNITED24, Minesalt recreates 16 real locations in Ukraine, including multiple halls made of salt, a light gallery and a museum in a server on Minecraft, which is owned by Microsoft.

"Minesalt is a counterweight to Russian propaganda that uses Roblox and Minecraft," said Yaroslava Gres, coordinator at UNITED24.

The platform's ambassadors - billionaire Richard Branson, soccer player Oleksandr Zinchenko and astronaut Scott Kelly - are characters in the game and will accompany players in the virtual mines.

Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 and in January last year its troops captured Soledar, which is one of the largest salt mines in Europe.

Russia has been accused of using online gaming platforms such as Roblox and Minecraft for pushing its propaganda.

Microsoft President Brad Smith had said in April last yearthat the company was tackling attempts by Russian agents to "penetrate" online gaming communities, including those linked to Minecraft.

While Minesalt is not made in partnership with Microsoft, it uses Minecraft's unique fonts with permission from developer Mojang Studios and parent Microsoft.

UNITED24 is seeking donations using the project's webpage or via a link in the game. Donations received would be used to rebuild a school that was struck by a missile, the fundraising platform said.

It was launched in May of 2022 and has so far raised more than $600 million, according to its website.

(Reporting by Akash Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)