Twitch streamers in Russia lose livelihoods as sanctions hit home

Twitch informed affected Russian streamers of its plans via email. (Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)

“Payouts to the financial institution associated with your Twitch account have been blocked as a result of sanctions,” read the email. “Twitch complies with economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other governments, and is complying with those imposed in response to the situation in Ukraine. These sanctions may limit or impact your access to payouts, ability to monetize your stream, and/or financially support other creators.”

The email from Twitch went on to add that “we appreciate how frustrating and difficult this is and would like to reassure you that if you can’t provide an alternative financial institution, we will do our best to pay you revenue you have earned as soon as we are permitted to do so.”

PayPal, which was cited as the only remaining option by some streamers on Saturday, suspended its services in Russia on Sunday. Now, there is effectively no way for many Russian streamers to make money and it’s impossible to know when Twitch will be able to reopen its pocketbook to Russian streamers.

“I feared it and knew it could happen, but didn’t expect it to happen this soon and overnight over the weekend,” a Russian Twitch partner named Lina, who declined to share her last name told The Post. Despite the lack of income, she plans to continue streaming. “My community worries and showing up and talking to them, telling them how I feel, how things are, letting them see my face and my emotions about the situation is the least I can do.” The past 12 days have been some of the most stressful of her life, she said, but her Twitch community has helped keep her “sane.”

Another Twitch streamer based out of Russia who goes by the handle Decc also plans to keep streaming despite having no means of making money for the foreseeable future.

“Yes, I am going to continue to stream,” said Decc, who like Lina declined to provide his real name out of concern for his safety. “I do believe in these hard times a lot of people need a distraction from all the world events, and I keep a pretty comfy nonpolitical broadcast.”

One of the biggest Russian Twitch streamers, Alexey “Jesus AVGN” Gubanov, said he had to flee Russia and move to the United States because of his stance against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, he’s been impacted by the sanctions. “I have been blocked from payments from Twitch, many advertisers have left the Russian market and my Visa and Mastercard cards will soon be blocked abroad,” Gubanov, who received the same email as many other Russian streamers, told The Post. “For many years I have been against the Putin regime, because of which I had to flee my home country, and yet I still have to answer for all the terrible actions of Putin, even in another country.”

Lina explained that sanctions have made it near-impossible for her to leave Russia, and will soon leave her with little access to the outside world. “If I can no longer pay for [a virtual private network], I am cut off from the independent Internet,” she said. “I am only left with the Russian propaganda and cannot see what is truly going on in the world.”

Not every Russian streamer has received the email. A couple streamers with whom The Post spoke, including Lina, speculated that it was because they already had their payout method set to PayPal. Despite this, they too are uncertain whether they’ll receive their next paycheck.

This comes after a flurry of rumors in the immediate aftermath of the invasion; some outlets reported that Twitch had blocked Russian streamers entirely, though that turned out to be untrue. However, Russia recently passed a “fake news” law that threatens those disseminating anything the Kremlin deems false about the invasion with prison time, causing TikTok to block new livestreams and videos in the country. On Friday, Russia’s communications agency also announced that it would be blocking Facebook. Meanwhile, one Russian politician, Duma state deputy Roman Teryushkov, has called for the country to ban Twitch. All of this means that more could be in store for already exasperated Russian Twitch streamers.

“I am sure that Twitch will not block Russian streamers, but the fact that the Russian authorities can block Twitch in their country is a very real possibility,” Gubanov said.

“I can’t say I’ve been hurt by sanctions yet, aside from the payouts issue,” Decc said, “but I feel like this is only the beginning.”

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