Politics

Supporting Ukraine: Over 61,000 People Book Airbnb Stays in Ukraine Just to Help Hosts

Users of Airbnb, Uber and Etsy are getting creative in offering aid to those affected by the fighting.

Airbnb and other new-economy companies are leaning into helping Ukrainians during the Russian invasion.
Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

This story is part of War in Ukraine, CNET's coverage of events there and of the wider effects on the world.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to impact more Ukrainians, some US companies are thinking outside the box to help those affected by the fighting. Aside from monetary contributions and cutting economic ties with Russia, firms are also providing free shelter and services.

Airbnb users are also getting creative: Thousands of members have booked stays in Ukraine -- with no intention of actually going -- to transfer money quickly to residents in need. 

To help those fleeing violence, Tesla is letting owners of any model electric vehicle use its Supercharger stations near the Ukraine borders in Hungary and Poland. Tesla founder Elon Musk has also activated Starlink, SpaceX's satellite internet service, to ensure Ukrainians have reliable internet access.

T-Mobile, Verizon and other phone carriers have lowered or waived charges for calls to Ukraine, with some including local calls made within the country.

Here are some of the companies offering services to Ukrainians in need, and ways that you can help support their efforts.

Airbnb opens up 'virtual' bookings

On their own, some Airbnb users are booking rentals in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine -- not to visit but to quickly provide locals with much-needed financial assistance. 

On Thursday, UK events planner Mario DiMaggio tweeted that he and his wife booked a week at an Airbnb residence in Kyiv "simply as a means of getting money directly into the hands of Kiev residents."

"Of course, we will not be visiting," he told the host in a written exchange. "This is just so you can receive some money. We wish we could do more to help you and the people of Kiev."

Another Twitter user wrote that he shared the idea of virtual booking in Ukraine and "24 hours later, 100s of people are booking AirBnBs in Ukraine as a way to send immediate monetary assistance to people in hard-hit areas." 

According to the Airbnb site, there are more than 300 host properties across Ukraine -- most in Kyiv, with some in Lviv and Odesa. Almost all are renting for less than $50 (US) a night. Over 61,000 people have booked virtual stays on March 2 and 3, according to an Airbnb representative, generating more than $2 million in donations.

Though Airbnb isn't overseeing the campaign, it's waiving all guest and host fees in Ukraine. "We are so humbled by the inspiring generosity of our community during this moment of crisis," the rep said.

Travel expert Simon Calder did caution that the well-intentioned campaign could attract con artists.

"Were I a Russian scammer, I would be setting up fake Airbnbs in Kiev and Odessa as fast as I could to cash in on those noble intentions," Calder tweeted.

Last week, Airbnb announced it was making free housing available to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and letting members offer housing for Ukrainian refugees for free or at a deep discount.

"The greatest need we have is for more people who can offer their homes in nearby countries -- including Poland, Germany, Hungary and Romania," Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a statement.

The room-rental company's nonprofit wing, Airbnb.org, is partnering with nonprofits to vet hosts and refugees, and is also pitching in $1 million in liability insurance, $1 million in damage protection, and other services. 

People interested in opening their homes for a few days or a few weeks can get more details on the Airbnb.org website.

Etsy shoppers order digital downloads

The online craft market doesn't have rides to offer or places for people to stay, but it's eliminating fees for Ukraine-based sellers.

"Many sellers are facing tremendous financial hardship as a result of the turmoil," Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said in a release on Monday. "To alleviate some of the burden, we are canceling the current balances owed to Etsy by all sellers in Ukraine, which includes listing fees, transaction fees, advertising fees and more."

The effort, which includes Etsy sites Depop and Reverb, represents a contribution of approximately $4 million, Silverman said.

Some Etsy sellers are donating a portion of proceeds from Ukraine-themed products to nonprofits like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

etsy screenshot

Etsy shoppers are reportedly buying digital downloads from Ukrainian artists unable to produce physical works during the crisis.

Etsy

Etsy shoppers are reportedly also buying digital downloads from Ukraine-based artisans -- artwork, clip art, crochet patterns and even coloring-book pages -- that allow them to earn money without having to produce anything physical. 

The offerings are not being vetted for possible scammers but one weaver based in southeast Ukraine told CNN that foreigners have been ordering her digital postcards and some have even bought physical items but said not to worry about sending them.

"I never thought so many people who don't know me would like to help me and my family," she told the network. 

Uber offers free rides

In the US, people can use the Uber app to give the International Rescue Committee direct donations, which the ride-share company says it'll match up to $1 million. 

To help refugees fleeing the conflict, Uber is also offering unlimited free rides from the Ukraine-Polish border to the cities of Lublin, in central Poland, and Rzeszow, in the southeast. Uber users in Hrebenne, Dolhobyczow and other Polish border towns can enter special codes to get a free ride to or from the checkpoints. 

The company is also offering free transportation to migrant welcome center staff and for the delivery of donated goods at various warehouse locations throughout Poland.

Though it temporarily paused services in Ukraine when the invasion began, Uber says it's assessing ride-sharing on a city-by-city basis, and offering advance payments to drivers in the war-torn country. 

The company is also working to enable Ukrainian refugees to become Uber drivers in neighboring countries where it operates, it said in a release.