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People are booking Airbnbs in war-torn Ukraine to donate directly to owners: ‘It was important for me to do something’

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Hilary Mak was at home in Surrey, England, on Thursday afternoon when her daughter shared an Instagram post about a way to send money to Ukrainians. The idea, the message said, was to book Airbnbs.

“It captured my imagination,” Mak, 59, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I have donated to charities, but I thought maybe this was a way to connect to people in an individual way … and to let them know that people are behind them and want to do whatever they can to help.”

Mak found a rental in Kyiv and messaged the host telling her she wanted to help. The host responded immediately, Mak said.

“She said, ‘Our children are sheltered in the basement,’ ” Mak, a psychiatrist, recalled, adding that the host sent a picture from the shelter showing her daughters bundled in winter coats and hats and eating on a bed next to their car. “She said, ‘I hope you never know what war is.’ ”

“I just cried,” Mak said. “It was very personal.”

The bride wore fatigues. The wedding party carried rifles and RPGs.

Mak is among thousands of people using Airbnb as an immediate and intimate way to help those living through war in Ukraine. On Wednesday and Thursday, more than 61,000 nights were booked in Ukraine from people around the world, according to an Airbnb spokesman, who added that the total booking value was nearly $2 million.

The company late last week waived all guest and host fees on bookings in Ukraine and said that operations in Russia and Belarus were suspended. Last Monday, Airbnb announced it was offering “free, short-term housing to up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine,” according to a news release.

The initiative to book Ukrainian rentals appears to have been started by Tommy Marcus, the creator of the social media account @quentin.quarantino, which promotes fundraising campaigns and posts political memes. In August, Marcus led a fundraising effort to help evacuate Afghans after Kabul fell to the Taliban. The effort later proved difficult to carry out after millions in donations poured in when the call for help went viral and charter flights out of Afghanistan were later canceled, a Post investigation found. Marcus did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.

In an Instagram story on Thursday, Marcus said he had been tagged in about 300 posts from people saying they booked Airbnbs in Ukraine.

“Just about every message has the same energy of gratitude and desire to pass the act of kindness forward,” he wrote.

Susan Moray, 70, heard about the initiative on Twitter. The campaign felt personal, she said, since she gets her primary income from being an Airbnb host in her hometown of Portland, Ore. Moray considered what it would mean for her to suddenly lose that income. So, she decided to book a “stay” from March 5 through 8, the soonest option available since hosts get paid only once the rental begins, she said.

“I think any way you can get money directly to them is such a great way to help,” Moray told The Post.

Moray made sure to book a stay from someone living in Kyiv, rather than a corporation or hotel. Her host responded and thanked her for the support.

“We will use this money to help all those who need help in this difficult time — the elderly, women, children who stayed in Kyiv and need food, medicines, warm clothes,” the host, Iryna, wrote to Moray in messages reviewed by The Post. “We have united a group of like-minded people and created a volunteer team that delivers everything people need.”

As Russia closed in, teachers fled Kyiv in a school bus. Then they drove back into the fray to rescue others.

Cass Kachel, 40, said she looked for single-bedroom listings, figuring that people who rent out a room in their house “probably need the income,” she told The Post. Kachel, a jewelry designer from Lancaster, Pa., booked a one-night stay for $60 and plans to do it again when she gets her next paycheck.

“The regular people, they’re the ones who are hurting the most, they’re the ones who pay the highest price and they’re the ones who are suffering,” Kachel said. “I felt like it was important for me to do something.”

For Mak, the psychiatrist in Surrey, the most striking moment while looking for rentals in Kyiv was seeing the reviews from stays just a few weeks ago.

“This was just a city, which had a beautiful cathedral and where people wanted to visit as tourists,” she said, “ … and that’s just gone in a week.”

Mak has stayed in touch with her host, checking on how she, her husband and two children are doing. Mak said she has convinced friends and family to also book Airbnbs in Ukraine.

“We’re just ordinary people living ordinary lives in freedom, and that’s such a privilege,” Mak said. “I just think it would be great if more people could do it. It’s just a little gesture, really.”

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.