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People are booking Airbnbs in Ukraine as a way to send aid

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A social-media campaign that took off on March 2 has generated thousands of reservations across the country, even as invading Russian forces indiscriminately shell civilian neighborhoods in cities like Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Mariupol and Sumy.

The goal is to get money into the hands of Ukrainians on the ground as quickly as possible, said Rob Meehan, an Airbnb host with properties in Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, who took part in the grass-roots effort.

Mr. Meehan logged on to the Airbnb platform Friday morning and typed in Ukraine. When an apartment popped up in the capital city of Kyiv, he booked it for the first available two nights, for a total of $229.

“Like a lot of other people, I’ve been feeling the stress of this. All of the sadness that is going on over there,” he said Friday.

As a host himself, Mr. Meehan said he knew the owners would be paid within a day of the arrival date. Airbnb said payment is released 24 hours after the property’s appointed check-in time, regardless of whether the guest appears.

He messaged the host to say that his booking was an act of solidarity and that he didn’t intend to show up. She responded moments later, thanking him for his support.

“The fighting spirit of Ukraine cannot be stopped,” the host said in a message Mr. Meehan shared with The Wall Street Journal. “It will only die with the last Ukrainian.”

Mr. Meehan is one of thousands around the world who have booked an Airbnb stay as a way of supporting Ukrainian citizens after social-media messages began circulating the idea online earlier this week.

The campaign got a boost when Airbnb Chief Executive Brian Chesky retweeted one of the original messages. Airbnb had separately set up its own initiative to provide temporary housing for up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine through Airbnb.org, the home-sharing company’s nonprofit arm. Airbnb has also suspended all operations in Russia and Belarus.

By the end of the day Thursday, guests from the U.S. had booked 34,000 nights in Ukraine, according to figures released by Airbnb on Friday. Guests from the U.K. accounted for 8,000 nights, and Canadian guests had booked nearly 3,000.

The company said it waived all its service fees for bookings made in Ukraine in response to the campaign’s “inspiring generosity.”

For U.K.-based travel agent Graham Bishop Macrides, the fee waiver was a big factor in his decision to book a Ukraine reservation.

He said he reached out to Airbnb on Twitter to make sure all the money from the booking would go to the host. When the company confirmed it would, Mr. Macrides started spreading the word, activating his travel-industry network.

“I just don’t feel that we are doing enough,” Mr. Macrides said of the West’s response to the crisis.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization members have repeatedly said they wouldn’t get directly involved in the conflict themselves. But the U.S., U.K. and European Union have imposed stiff sanctions against Russia and sent weapons, money and other support to Ukraine.

“At least this is something we can do to show Ukrainians that they are not alone, we are there with them,” Mr. Macrides said.

The first reservation he made was with a family that had hosted him during a 2019 visit to Kyiv.

“They wrote back and asked me to pray for them, that they really need it, and they said thank you so much,” Mr. Macrides said. “They asked me to ask people to book in the city of Kharkiv, because it’s really terrible what’s going on there.”

Russia has laid siege to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Airstrikes have destroyed buildings and forced thousands of residents to shelter in the train station while waiting to be evacuated.

Other major cities are under sustained attack. In Kyiv, residents endure daily attempts by Russian forces to gain the upper hand. Every day since Feb. 24″the start of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war to overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected government and end its alignment with the West”Ukrainian special forces have held them back.

Residents of picturesque Lviv, a city of blue spires and Austro-Hungarian architecture, are prepared to become the fallback capital if the government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, is forced from Kyiv.

Lviv has also emerged as a supply hub for weapons and materiel that the West has ferried into Ukraine. That has raised some worries that it could become the Russian military’s next major target.

“I just feel so helpless,” said Rob Bujan, who runs an insurance agency in Hudson, N.Y., about 100 miles north of New York City.

On Friday, he booked a two-day Airbnb stay in Lviv for $85 a night. Mr. Bujan said he scanned the listings to check for prior reviews to make sure he was giving to a reliable host and not a scammer.

He told the hosts he wouldn’t be coming and that if someone else needed the room, to give it to them. They wrote back: “Hundreds of thousands of Americans and Europeans lend a helping hand to Ukraine. We will never forget it.”

Mr. Bujan said Mr. Zelensky’s bravery was part of what moved him to find a way to give to Ukrainians.

“He’s turned around and brought the world together in a way that no other president has been able to do,” said Mr. Bujan. “I just think it’s incredible, and it’s incredible what the people in the Ukraine are doing standing up to Russia.”

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