People are booking Airbnbs in Ukraine — not to stay, but to lend their support
Some people have found a novel way to get money to Ukrainians as their country is under attack from Russia: booking immediate Airbnb stays they don't intend to use.
Airbnb hosts are paid 24 hours 24 hours after a guest checks in, so people abroad are booking stays and letting hosts know that it's a gesture of solidarity, and they don't plan to appear.
The idea spread over the last few days, and Airbnb is waiving all host and guest fees in Ukraine for now. On Wednesday and Thursday, more than 61,000 nights were booked in Ukraine from around the world — bookings that grossed nearly $2 million, Airbnb tells NPR.
The bookings have helped build a sense of connection
Sarah Brown, a 42-year-old who lives in Salt Lake City, is one of those who got the ball rolling in a Facebook group for Airbnb hosts. She booked a stay in Kyiv.
The host thanked Brown for her support, writing: "It does matter and it does help us to survive these hardest days."
Someone in the Facebook group noted that it was important to support Ukrainians in places other than Kyiv, so Brown booked two more stays in smaller cities, with plans for more.
She says the experience has helped her feel more invested in Ukraine beyond the news, by connecting with an actual person.
"It makes me feel like I have so much more skin in the game. I am so heartbroken for Ukraine, but I don't know anyone there. And now I care so much about this woman and what happens to her," Brown says. "It's not happening to someone happening far away — it's happening to people we now know."
Of course Airbnb hosts may not be the neediest cases. But Brown says there are ways of finding hosts who are likely of limited means, for instance by looking for those who rent out a shared room or live in smaller towns.
The company has taken its own steps to help Ukrainians
While this phenomenon appears to have developed in a grassroots manner, Airbnb also has its own initiative to provide housing to those in need. The company will offer short-term housing for free for up to 100,000 of those fleeing Ukraine. People can go to Airbnb.org and sign up to host refugees or donate to the cause.
CEO Brian Chesky said this week that the company had suspended its operations in Russia and Belarus.
For Brown, the bookings are not meant to replace donations to organizations like the Red Cross that provide crucial aid.
"This is a multiprong approach," she says. "This is just as much about shared solidarity and making sure people don't feel alone, as much as getting money to those who need it most."
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