The app tells a different story than the scenes of bloodshed in Kiev’s Independence Square.
Created by indie developers Mikhail Stepanskiy and Ruslan Kosarevych, Son of the Sun and Wizard Lizard is an interactive story that teaches children that people can change, and that compassion and forgiveness can help make the world a better place. The app is available on iTunes for $4.99 and it’s aimed at the peaceful world of early childhood and mobile games.
For the coders, the contrast between the world they portray in their app and their lives amidst political upheaval in Ukraine couldn’t be more stark. Each day in Kiev, the social entrepreneurs must walk through streets of violence to work on code they believe will teach young children to make ethical decisions about their lives. Each day, they see a society strained at its seams, with the forces of embattled President Viktor Yanukovych shooting protestors in the country’s most symbolic public space. Yet each day, they work to create a virtual world of peace for young children.
“The main theme of our book is forgiveness,” says Stepanskiy, creative director and co-founder with Kosarevych of KidAppers, their app development startup in Kiev. ”We started to create our book 10 months ago and couldn’t even imagine that this situation could be possible. But when the protest started, and you see reports about kidnapped, tortured and murdered people, and see the government’s lies, it’s really hard to keep our hearts from hate.”
The story in the app teaches both reading and a moral approach to the world: “When the dastardly Wizard Lizard captures the Son of the Sun, the hero looks doomed. But instead of fighting, Son of the Sun uses his powers, and the story takes a surprising turn!” Son of the Sun is designed to help children with reading fluency and diction by allowing them to follow along with the narrator or read on their own. Kids can also explore the interactive landscapes throughout the story and create music, hear animal sounds and have the on-screen characters engage each other.
The developers are well aware of the contrast between the virtual world they’ve created and the scenes on their doorstep. And they see change in the air, once the bloodshed has ended. “We want people to keep their hearts clean after the victory,” says Stepanskiy. “We don’t need bloody revenge. We must learn to forgive, especially if it’s hard to do. It must be different between the people of Ukraine and the pack of corrupt people. And we’ll try to teach those lessons to the kids because they are asking about what is happening. My son doesn’t like Yanukovich, but I don’t want him to be filled with hate. I want him to understand the power of forgiveness.”
Their startup is part of a small but burgeoning tech community in Ukraine, one that ironically started the career of WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum, a native Ukrainian whose company was just purchased by Facebook for $19 billion in cash and stock. Stepanskiy says that mobile technology is playing a major role in the uprising and stand-off with the government; some programmers set up an “IT tent” in Maidan to keep the opposition online. And the protestors are clearly connected via mobile social apps. “We don’t think that people have strategized to use one thing in particular, but Facebook is the most popular instrument,” said Stepanskiy. “Twitter, too, of course. Also, we know about activists that are using the Zello app to coordinate immediate actions.”
But the KidAppers team isn’t focused too much on the political struggle. Like the characters in their interactive story, they’re looking beyond the violent struggle to era of reconciliation.
“Our greatest sorrow about this situation is murders,” said Stepanskiy. “We aren’t afraid of the division of Ukraine. We’re afraid of more deaths on either side. Hopefully talking to people about it can push things forward and draw the attention of international authorities to take Yanukovich away as soon as possible.”