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People from all over the world are booking Airbnbs in Ukraine

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

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

Sometimes he sends a crying emoji. Other times, the praying hands emoji. It’s his way of thanking those who are reserving his apartment, even if they never intend to show up at his door.

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

The idea has gained momentum. On March 2 and 3, guests 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 spokesman said.

CNN spoke to people in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia who have booked rentals in Ukraine on Airbnb in recent days.

“More than 10 reservations arrived today. This was amazing, it’s very supportive at the moment,” Bondarenko, 36, told CNN early Friday. “I have told many of my family and friends that I plan to use this money to help our people who need it right now.”

Ukrainian soldiers unload weapons from the trunk of an old car northeast of Kyiv, Ukraine. Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

People are leaving 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 check-in date as possible to ensure hosts receive rates quickly. Airbnb typically issues a payment about 24 hours after a guest checks in.

Campaign organizers are also urging people to make sure the rentals are operated by individuals and not businesses.

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

The New School literature professor booked a two-night stay in an apartment in Old Kyiv, a charming and historic neighborhood known for its Orthodox churches and quirky animal sculptures. The photos on the Airbnb listing show immaculate hardwood floors, an overstuffed gray couch, and a sloping skylight. The two-bedroom apartment is almost complete for the next few months.

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

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

His host, Olga Zviryanskaya, responded promptly.

“We will be happy to see you in the peaceful city of Kyiv and hug you,” he said.

Zviryanskaya and her three children lived in the capital for years. After Russian forces invaded and stormed the city, she put her children and some belongings in a car and fled to the region near Cherkassy, ​​a city 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 brought her comfort as she adjusts to the new reality.

“We are alive, but we want to live like before,” he said. “Kyiv is very scary. Every word of support is valuable, not necessarily money.”

Someday, when the conflict is over, Daniel hopes to book Zviryanskaya’s apartment again. This time, he intends to visit.

People take shelter in the Dorohozhychi metro station, which has been converted into a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

“You are my heroes,” says a Ukrainian host

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

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

Osypchuk remains in the city with his wife and two children. Since then, he has set up an automated message to handle the influx of requests from Airbnb.

“Thank you very much for your help, which is sorely needed now,” he says. “I’ve been queuing for food since morning, which I can now buy with the money you sent me.”

Zimmer walked up to him directly to check on him and offer help. She urged his friends to look for similar Airbnb rentals in Ukraine.

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

Careyann Deyo, a 45-year-old New York City resident, 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 like this had a more immediate impact,” says Deyo.

Deyo’s host messaged her after learning she was sending a payment even though she wasn’t planning on signing up.

“I’m crying. 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. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Airbnb is waiving host and guest fees

Airbnb has said it is offering temporary accommodation in neighboring countries to up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing their country due to the Russian invasion. You’re also waiving in-country host and guest fees.

“We are humbled by the inspiring generosity of our community during this time of crisis,” said Haven Thorn, a company spokesperson. And he asked those willing to help by hosting Ukrainians or donating to visit Airbnb’s website for more information.

Some people warn that scammers could set up fake Airbnb accounts in Ukraine to capitalize on the world’s generosity. Those booking rentals are advised to examine the listing carefully and read reviews to ensure the host is legitimate and has been in business for some time.

One of the social media influencers behind Airbnb’s effort has also encouraged his followers to support Ukrainian merchants on Etsy, but asks sellers not to ship any products. Etsy has announced that it will cancel current balances and fees owed by 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.

Of equal importance, he and other hosts said, are the words of support they hear from strangers a world away.

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