When Olivera White was looking for an Airbnb rental in Ukraine, she didn’t care about the number of bedrooms or bathrooms. The Ontario woman wanted the apartment to look modest – as if the landlord didn’t have a lot of money. Above all, she wanted confirmation that the host was alive.
Indeed, Ms White has no plans to stay in any of the three Airbnb units she and her husband have booked in recent days near the capital, Kyiv. Instead, they are part of a global movement of people turning to the short-term accommodation platform as a means of directly supporting Ukrainians besieged by Russian forces.
In just 48 hours last week, more than 61,000 nights were booked in Ukraine through Airbnb, with a total gross booking value of nearly $2 million. Nearly 3,000 nights have been paid for by Canadian guests, an Airbnb spokeswoman said in an email over the weekend.
Canada has the largest Ukrainian population in the world, excluding Russia and Ukraine; approximately 1.4 million Canadians are of Ukrainian ancestry. People who have no connection with Ukraine also contribute.
Donations have been pouring in to mainstream charities since the war broke out last month. As of March 5, the Canadian Red Cross has raised $46.2 million for the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal. The federal government has given an additional $10 million to the Canadian wing of the international emergency relief organization under a capped matching program.
Save the Children Canada said it has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations in recent days. “Anecdotally, we can say that there have been few rapid-onset emergencies that have generated this level of response from Canadians in such a short time,” said a spokeswoman for the humanitarian group. , adding that the initial surge had “stabilized a bit”. .”
For Ms White and others, the appeal of supporting Ukrainians through Airbnb bookings rather than donating money to an aid agency is the immediacy of the impact. There is also the question of how much of each donated dollar goes to fundraising or administrative costs.
Save the Children said 9.7% of funds support additional fundraising and 6.4% goes to general and management expenses. The Canadian Red Cross said the cost of fundraising — including processing donations and issuing receipts — will not exceed 5%. Any remaining funds will be used to support people affected by the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and neighboring countries, a spokeswoman said.
By booking through Airbnb, Ms White and her husband put a total of around $550 directly into the hands of three Ukrainian Airbnb hosts. This is due to Airbnb’s recent decision to temporarily waive guest and host fees on new bookings in Ukraine. The San Francisco-based company is also offering free short-term housing to up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine and suspending operations in Russia and Belarus, which played a supporting role in the invasion.
Ms White said the responses she received from the Ukrainian hosts were both encouraging and disturbing. “I’m literally crying,” said one host. “Thank you for your support.” Another said he was staying in northern Ukraine to protect his land. “I wish my family and I will survive,” he wrote.
Ms White said she hoped to keep in touch with the hosts and planned to send them money every month. “The money is going directly to these people,” said Ms White, who was reached in Serbia where she is visiting family. “You know you’re helping them somehow.”
Kyle Ashley, a marketing professor at George Brown College in Toronto, also chose to send money to a Ukrainian Airbnb host rather than donating through traditional channels. He wanted every dollar he had to go directly to a Ukrainian on the front lines of war.
And so on Friday, he booked a room in Kiev’s Freedom Square area from March 24-29, at a total cost of about $200. “I will not be traveling to Kyiv,” he wrote to the host. “Please accept this as a gift to help you and your family either stay and resist the occupation or get to safety.”
About seven hours later, he received a response. “I can’t convey all the emotions of gratitude!” God bless you! Thank you for your help and empathy,” the host wrote, adding, “We hope to have guests soon.”