Between listening to air raid sirens and frantically messaging family for updates, he exchanges messages with a barrage of Airbnb guests booking his one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the Ukrainian capital.
Sometimes he sends a crying emoji. Another time the praying hands emoji. It’s his way of saying thank you to those who book his apartment – even though they have no intention of ever showing up at his door.
Airbnb hosts in Ukraine are inundated with bookings from people from all over the world with no travel plans. It’s part of a creative social media campaign to funnel money to besieged Ukrainians in need of financial assistance while Russian forces bomb their country and disrupt services.
MAP: Locations of known Russian military strikes and ground attacks
The idea took off. According to an Airbnb spokesman, guests from all over the world booked more than 61,000 nights in Ukraine on March 2-3. More than half of those nights were booked by Americans, the spokesman said.
CNN spoke to people in the United States, Britain and Australia who have booked Ukrainian rentals on Airbnb in the past few days.
“More than 10 bookings came in today. That was surprising, it’s very supportive 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 need it at this time.”
People leave messages of support for their Ukrainian hosts
Calling for guests to book Airbnbs in Ukraine began online, with supporters urging people to book rooms as close to the check-in date as possible to ensure hosts receive fees quickly. Airbnb typically initiates a payout about 24 hours after a guest checks in.
Campaign organizers are also urging people to ensure rentals are run by individuals and not companies.
New York City resident Anne Margaret Daniel saw the Airbnb posts on social media and took action.
WATCH: An in-depth look at Ukraine’s refugee crisis
The New School literature lecturer booked a two-night stay in an apartment in Old Kyiv, a charming and historic neighborhood known for Orthodox churches and whimsical animal sculptures. Photos on the Airbnb listing show pristine hardwood floors, a overstuffed gray couch, and a sloping skylight. The 2-room apartment is almost fully booked for the next few months.
In her booking, Daniel added a message for the host:
“I hope that you and your beautiful apartment are safe and that this terrible war is over… and Ukraine is safe,” it said. “I will come to you one day, please count on it, and I will stay with you when we visit you. God bless you and God be with you, your city, your country.”
Her host Olga Zviryanskaya soon responded.
“We will be happy to see and hug you in the peaceful city of Kyiv,” she said.
For years, Zviryanskaya and her three children lived in the capital. After Russian troops invaded and threw the town into turmoil, she packed her children and a few belongings in a car and fled to the region near Cherkassy, a city in central Ukraine. The 100-mile trip took nine hours.
Now Zviryanskaya allows people who have no way out of Kyiv to stay in her apartment. Messages from strangers have given her comfort as she adjusts to her new reality.
“We live, but we want to live as before,” she said. “It’s very scary in Kyiv. Every word of support is valuable, not necessarily money.”
One day, when the conflict is over, Daniel hopes to book Zviryanskaya’s apartment again. This time she wants to visit him.
“You are my heroes,” says a Ukrainian host
Andre Osypchuk is a retired seaman and Airbnb host based in Kyiv.
He was surprised to see that Brooklyn resident Valerie Zimmer — who was born in Kyiv and stayed at his rented apartment three years ago while visiting family — had recently booked his apartment for a week-long stay.
Osypchuk remains in town with his wife and two children. He’s since set up an automated message to handle the influx of Airbnb requests.
“Thank you for your help, which is so urgently needed now,” it said. “Since morning I’ve been queuing for food, which I can buy now with the money you sent.”
Zimmer reached out to him directly to see how he was doing and offered to help. She has urged her friends to look for similar Airbnb accommodations across Ukraine.
“The money gets to the people directly and quickly,” she said.
New York City resident Careyann Deyo, 45, booked an Airbnb rental attached to someone else’s home in Ukraine to ensure her payment reached a resident.
“I’ve also donated to larger organizations, but felt it had a more immediate impact,” says Deyo.
Deyo’s host messaged her after finding out she was sending a payment despite not planning to check in.
“I cry. You are my heroes,” it said.
Airbnb waives guest and host fees
Airbnb has announced that it will offer temporary housing in neighboring countries to up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing their country because of the Russian invasion. It also waives in-country guest and host fees.
“We are so impressed by the inspiring generosity of our community at this moment of crisis,” said Haven Thorn, a company spokesman. He asked those willing to help by hosting Ukrainians or donating to their efforts to visit Airbnb’s website for more information.
Some people warn that scammers could set up fake Airbnb accounts in Ukraine to cash in on the world’s generosity. Those booking a rental are encouraged to carefully review the listing and reviews to ensure the host is legitimate and has been in business for some time.
One of the social media influencers behind the Airbnb effort has also encouraged his followers to patronize Ukrainian merchants on Etsy while asking sellers not to ship goods. Etsy has announced that it will cancel current balances and fees owed by all sellers in Ukraine.
Bondarenko, the Airbnb host in Kyiv, said while banks are closed in some cities and Airbnb payments may not reach hosts as quickly as usual, the financial support is comforting in a world of terror and uncertainty.
Equally important, he and other hosts said, were the words of support they heard from otherworldly strangers.
The CNN Wire
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https://abc13.com/airbnbs-in-ukraine-russian-invasion-booking-airbnb-helping-ukrainians/11626602/ News from the war between Russia and Ukraine live: People all over the world book Airbnbs in Ukraine. You don’t intend to check in