When Olivera White was searching for an Airbnb rental in Ukraine, she wasn’t concerned with the number of bedrooms or bathrooms. The Ontario woman wanted the apartment to appear modest – as if the owner didn’t have a ton of money. Mostly, she wanted confirmation that the host was alive.
This is because Ms. White has no intention of staying at any of the three Airbnb units she and her husband booked in recent days near the capital city of Kyiv. Instead, they’re part of a global movement of people who are turning to the short-term lodging platform as a means of directly supporting Ukrainians under siege by Russian forces.
In just 48 hours last week, more than 61,000 nights were reserved in Ukraine through Airbnb, for a total gross booking value of almost $2-million. Nearly 3,000 nights were paid for by Canadian guests, an Airbnb spokeswoman said in an e-mail over the weekend.
Canada has the largest Ukrainian population in the world, outside Russia and Ukraine; about 1.4 million Canadians are of Ukrainian ancestry. People who have no ties to Ukraine are making contributions as well.
Donations have been pouring into mainstream charities since the war broke out last month. As of March 5, the Canadian Red Cross had raised $46.2-million for the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal. The federal government kicked in an additional $10-million to the Canadian wing of the international emergency-relief organization as part of a capped donation-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,” a spokeswoman for the humanitarian group said, adding that the initial surge has “levelled off a little.”
For Ms. White and others, the appeal of supporting Ukrainians through Airbnb bookings as opposed to donating money to an aid agency is the immediacy of the impact. There’s also the matter of how much of each donated dollar goes toward fundraising or administrative costs.
Save the Children said 9.7 per cent of funds support raising more money and 6.4 per cent goes to general and management expenses. The Canadian Red Cross said the cost of fundraising – including processing donations and issuing receipts – will not exceed five per cent. All remaining funds will be used to support people affected by the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and surrounding countries, a spokeswoman said.
By booking through Airbnb, Ms. White and her husband have put a total of roughly $550 directly into the hands of three Ukrainian Airbnb hosts. That is owing 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 is suspending its operations in Russia and Belarus, which has played a supporting role in the invasion.
Ms. White said the responses she has received from the Ukrainian hosts have been at once heartening and troubling. “I’m literally crying,” one host said. “Thank you for your support.” Another said he was staying in northern Ukraine to protect his land. “I wish my family and me will survive,” he wrote.
Ms. White said she hopes to keep in touch with the hosts and is considering sending them money each month. “The money goes directly to these people,” said Ms. White, who was reached in Serbia where she’s visiting family. “You know you’re helping them somehow.”
Kyle Ashley, a professor of marketing at George Brown College in Toronto, also opted to send money to a Ukrainian Airbnb host rather than make a donation through traditional channels. He wanted every single one of his dollars to go straight to a Ukrainian on the front lines of the war.
And so on Friday, he booked a room in the Freedom Square area of Kyiv from March 24-29, at a total cost of about $200. “I will not be travelling to Kyiv,” he wrote to the host. “Please accept this as a donation to help you and your family either stay and resist the occupation, or make it 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 receive guests soon.”