Airbnbs in Ukraine: People are booking them but not planning to check in

(CNN) — Volodymyr Bondarenko spends most of his day locked up in his apartment in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

Between listening to air raid sirens and frantically texting his family for updates, he exchanges messages with a flurry of Airbnb guests booking his one-bedroom rental in the heart of Ukraine’s capital.

Sometimes it sends a crying emoji. Other times, the praying hands emoji. It’s his way of thanking those who book his apartment, even if they have no intention of ever showing up at his door.

Airbnb hosts in Ukraine are inundated with bookings from people around the world who have no intention of visiting. It’s part of a creative social media campaign to funnel money to embattled Ukrainians in need of financial aid as Russian forces bombard their country and cut services.

The idea gained momentum. On March 2 and 3, travelers from around the world booked more than 61,000 nights in Ukraine, according to an Airbnb spokesperson. More than half of those nights were booked by Americans, the spokesperson said.

CNN spoke to people in the US, UK and Australia who have booked Ukrainian rentals on Airbnb in recent days.

“More than 10 bookings were registered today. It was surprising, it’s very encouraging at the moment,” Bondarenko, 36, told CNN early Friday. “I have told many of my relatives and friends that I intend to use this money to help our people who are in need at this time.”

Ukrainian soldiers unload weapons from the trunk of an old car northeast of Kyiv, Ukraine.

Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

People leave messages of support for their Ukrainian hosts

The call for guests to book Airbnbs in Ukraine began online, where supporters urged people to book rooms as close to an arrival date as possible to ensure hosts receive fees quickly. Airbnb usually has issues a payment about 24 hours after registering a customer.

Campaign organizers are also urging people to make sure rentals are run by individuals, not businesses.

New York resident Anne Margaret Daniel saw Airbnb’s social media posts and took action.

The New School literature professor has booked a two-night stay at an apartment in Old Kyiv, a charming and historic neighborhood known for its Orthodox churches and quirky animal sculptures. Photos on the Airbnb listing show immaculate wooden floors, an upholstered gray sofa and a sloping skylight. The two-bedroom apartment is almost fully booked for the next few months.

In his reservation, Daniel included a message for the host:

“I hope you and your lovely apartment are safe and this horrible war is over…and Ukraine is safe,” he said. “I will come to see you one day, count on it, and I will stay with you when we visit. God bless you and God be with you, your city, your country.”

Her host, Olga Zviryanskaya, responded quickly.

“We will be happy to see you in peaceful Kyiv and hug you,” she said.

Zviryanskaya and her three children have lived in the capital for years. After Russian forces invaded and threw the town into turmoil, she packed her children and some belongings into a car and fled to the area near Cherkasy, a town in central Ukraine. The 100 mile journey took nine hours.

Now Zviryanskaya allows people who have no way out of Kyiv to stay in her apartment. Messages from strangers have comforted her as she adjusts to the new reality.

“We are alive, but we want to live as before,” she said. “It’s very scary in Kyiv. Every word of support is precious, not necessarily money.”

One day, after the conflict is over, Daniel hopes to book Zviryanskaya’s apartment again. This time she intends to visit.

People take shelter in the Dorohozhychi metro station, which has been turned into a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine.

People take shelter in the Dorohozhychi metro station, which has been turned into a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

‘You are my heroes’, says Ukrainian host

Andre Osypchuk is a retired sailor and an Airbnb host in Kyiv.

He was surprised to see Brooklyn-based Valerie Zimmer, who was born in Kyiv and stayed in his rental three years ago while visiting family, recently booked his place for a week-long stay .

Osypchuk remains in the city with his wife and two children. It has since implemented an automated message to handle the influx of Airbnb requests.

“Thank you very much for your help, which is so much needed now,” he said. “I have been queuing for food since morning, which I can now buy with the money you sent.”

Zimmer contacted him directly to see how he was doing and to offer his help. She urged her friends to search for similar Airbnb rentals across Ukraine.

“The money will go directly to people, and quickly,” she said.

New York resident Careyann Deyo, 45, booked an Airbnb rental attached to someone’s home in Ukraine to ensure her payment reached a resident.

“I also donated to larger organizations, but I felt it had a more immediate impact,” Deyo says.

Deyo’s host messaged her after finding out she was sending payment even though she hadn’t planned to check in.

“I cry. You are my heroes,” he said.

A member of the Ukrainian military gives instructions to women and children boarding an evacuation train in Irpin, Ukraine.

A member of the Ukrainian military gives instructions to women and children boarding an evacuation train in Irpin, Ukraine.

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Airbnb drops guest and host fees

“We are so humbled by the inspiring generosity of our community at this time of crisis,” said company spokesperson Haven Thorn. He asked those who wanted to help by hosting Ukrainians or donating to their efforts to visit Airbnb’s website for more information.
Some people warn that scammers could create fake Airbnb accounts in Ukraine to capitalize on the generosity of the world. Those booking rentals are encouraged to carefully review the listing and read reviews to ensure the host is legit and has been running for a while.
One of the social media influencers behind the Airbnb effort also encouraged followers to patronize Ukrainian merchants on Etsy, but asked sellers not to ship goods. Etsy announced it waives current balances and fees due from all sellers in Ukraine.

Bondarenko, the Airbnb host in Kyiv, said that while banks are closed in some cities and Airbnb payments may not reach hosts as quickly as usual, financial assistance is comforting in a world full of terror and uncertainty.

Equally important, he and other hosts say, are the words of support they hear from strangers halfway around the world.

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