Witnessing the unfolding Russian invasion of Ukraine, and its impacts on the millions of citizens of the independent Eastern European nation, Salt Lake City resident Sarah Brown was looking for a way to connect with the people there and offer some help.
“For me, I really was looking for a way to have a direct connection with someone there,” Brown said. “With everything that’s happening, I wanted to give all of these people a hug and let them know they’re not alone in this.”
Brown said she considered just donating to one of the many charitable organizations working to get aid to Ukrainians since Russian military strikes began just over a week ago, but wanted to find a way to provide much needed aid that was more personal.
So, the longtime Airbnb host, who also runs a business managing Airbnb rental properties for other owners, started brainstorming with her network of fellow hosts. Brown decided the fastest and most direct path of getting money into Ukraine was to book a “no stay” stay with a fellow Airbnb host in Kyiv. She found a property that caught her eye and booked it, including a note to the host that the effort was about sending “some love.”
And the response she got was immediate and very personal.
My dear friend just shared a creative way to give direct financial assistance to Ukrainians right now. She booked a stay in an Airbnb in Kyiv (telling the hostess she wasn’t coming, but wanted to help), and the hostess was so thankful. Our small acts can mean a lot. 🇺🇦❤️ pic.twitter.com/etUZFyFi5b— Dr. Sarah VanSlette (@sarahvanslette) March 2, 2022
“Thank you soooo much for your support and everything you’re doing for us,” the Kyiv host wrote back. “It does matter and it does help us to survive these hardest days. It gives us strength and motivation. We’re staying in Kiev, hoping and believing in our Victory soon.”
But Brown didn’t stop there. She shared her “no stay” method for getting money to Ukrainian Airbnb hosts through social media channels as well as putting the idea out to her network of Utah hosts. And the idea, Brown said, just took off.
In addition to making charitable “no stay” bookings, others are booking Ukraine-based Airbnb properties and offering them to displaced Ukrainians who have lost their homes or are fleeing from areas currently under siege by the Russian military.
According to a spokesman, Airbnb has thrown its weight behind these efforts by waiving its guest and booking fee surcharges. The accommodations marketplace operator has also added pages to its website to help connect those looking for ways to contribute.
“We are so humbled by the inspiring generosity of our community during this moment of crisis,” an Airbnb spokesman said in a statement. “Airbnb is temporarily waiving guest and host fees on bookings in Ukraine at this time.
“We also encourage anyone interested in getting involved with http://Airbnb.org to go to https://www.airbnb.org/help-ukraine, and support Airbnb’s initiative to provide housing to refugees fleeing Ukraine, by becoming a host or donating.”
Airbnb said it has received a huge response to those efforts and Ukrainian aid postings on the company’s site have, so far, drawn over 260,000 visitors.
The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine has now reached 1.2 million, the International Organization for Migration said Friday. This could become the “biggest refugee crisis this century,” the U.N. has said, predicting that as many as 4 million people could leave. The European Union decided Thursday to grant people fleeing Ukraine temporary protection and residency permits.
And hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are also seeking safe shelter inside the country’s borders.
The U.N. children’s agency said a half-million children in Ukraine had to flee their homes in the first week of Russia’s invasion, though it didn’t say how many left the country.
Brown noted social media platforms were giving her, and the world, a very personal viewpoint of the impacts of Russia’s attacks on the country.
“The strange part about social media during a war is you see all these different scenes and what people are going through,” Brown said. “And, it’s not through the press but through iPhones and from the people themselves and it makes you want to connect with them.
“Being an Airbnb host I can look at a house there and I feel like I know her, know the owner. I can give her money and have this connection. And I want her to know that ‘I see you. I don’t know what you’re going through and I can’t imagine it, but I see you and I want you to know we are here for you.’”
Contributing: Associated Press