A mid-century designed forest chalet in Verholy, Ukraine.
Years ago, when the founders of Airbnb conceived the idea that an air mattress in their living room could be a bed and breakfast, they could not have foreseen that their business would become a vehicle to funnel cash to a war-torn Ukraine.
But last week, thousands of the online booking site's users reserved vacation rentals they will never use to support Ukrainian hosts struggling to survive Russia’s invasion. During a two-day period last week, almost $2 million was spent on reservations for more than 61,000 nights in Ukraine, including 34,000 nights booked by guests in the United States, according to the Airbnb website and the company’s CEO.
Although several organizations have established charities and donations to assist Ukrainians since Russia attacked two weeks ago, some people are rightfully concerned about where their donations are going and how much actually reaches Ukrainians in need.
Social media is helping to promote the trend as a safe and efficient means to get money directly into the hands of Ukrainians, Business Insider reports. The trend is gaining momentum on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, catching the attention of large social media presences like Instagram meme page Quentin Quarantino as well as Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky.
Airbnb did not start the effort, but supports it, and Chesky has posted messages on Twitter about the conflict as well as from users who have stepped forward to help Ukrainian hosts. According to Airbnb, by March 4 more than 357,000 people had visited the site to donate or become a host for refugees.
Several people interviewed by Business Insider who have booked anywhere between one night to two weeks in cities around Ukraine agreed that such bookings are the quickest and most secure way to get money directly in the hands of Ukrainians.
In Irpin, a city of 62,000 west of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, one person booked an apartment with little intention of staying, and the host responded, “Hope we will win and stop this horror.”
Given the tsunami of misinformation being generated by the Russian government through state and social media, some on Twitter have warned that scammers may try to set up fake listings in Ukraine to “cash in on noble intentions,” and warned users to check the host's reviews before trying to help.
Airbnb, which has suspended operations in Russia and Belarus, has waived guest and host fees on bookings so the rental fees go directly to the Ukrainian hosts. "We are so humbled by the inspiring generosity of our community during this moment of crisis. Airbnb is temporarily waiving guest and host fees on bookings in Ukraine at this time,” the company said in a statement to Fortune.
With Russia’s invasion prompting more than 2 million people to flee Ukraine, Airbnb has also volunteered up to 100,000 homes to house Ukrainian refugees, which could reach as many as 4 million people, according to the United Nations. Some 28,000 of the company's hosts around the world, including 2,800 in France, are currently offering accommodation for refugees.
On Tuesday, Airbnb's charitable arm, Airbnb.org, along with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), announced a partnership to connect people fleeing from Ukraine with free, short-term housing in Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. These stays are free and funded by Airbnb, donors to the Airbnb.org Refugee Fund, and hosts donating through Airbnb.org. Airbnb is waving all fees for these stays.
“We appreciate the generosity of our community during this moment of crisis," a company spokesperson told Business Insider, noting that Airbnb.org has seen an "overwhelming response.”
Image credit: Tina Hartung via Unsplash
Gary E. Frank is a writer with more than 30 years of experience encompassing journalism, marketing, media relations, speech writing, university communications and corporate communications.