AUSTIN (KXAN) — Central Texas residents have found an unlikely way to both send support to Ukrainians and counter Russian propaganda and misinformation circulating about the ongoing war.
Three nights ago, the idea came to Nicolette Solomon-van Wyk that she could use the Airbnb vacation rental platform to give a moral and financial boost to people who may be suffering in Ukraine. She suggested that she and her neighbors could offer help by booking rooms and houses with Ukrainian Airbnb hosts so they could receive money directly.
“I thought to myself, what if we asked people to book in Ukraine even if we weren’t going?” said Solomon-van Wyk. “First, they will have an income, even if their houses have been bombed or whatever, and second, to provide space for people who need a place to go and stay to collect fleeing people.
Solomon-van Wyk rents property in Dripping Springs on Airbnb and is known as a “superhost”, which is a distinction for the most experienced and highly rated landlords. She said she reached out and asked Airbnb to drop all fees for Ukrainian rentals, and the company announced it would waive those for guests and hosts.
“If everyone would help a little, what a fantastic thing for the people of Ukraine to know that we are here thinking about them, trying to support them even though we don’t know how to stop the war,” Solomon said. -van Wyk. .
If people are looking for vacation rentals in Ukraine right now on the Airbnb website and app, they can find them for prices as low as $10 a night. Solomon-van Wyk shared with her friends on Facebook that she had booked three nights at places in Kyiv and asked others to do the same. “Please join me in this act of charity and support,” read her message on Tuesday evening.
A friend of hers who is another Airbnb host in Dripping Springs, Carrie Napiorkowski, said she has already spent several hundred dollars booking rentals in Ukraine. She linked her bookings to messages sent directly to these Ukrainian hosts.
“We won’t be coming,” read one of Napiorkowski’s posts, “but we want you to know that the people of Texas are praying for the people of Ukraine.”
She received a response from a woman with property outside Kiev, who explained that she had opened her Airbnb to 38 refugees, including 18 children, fleeing the city.
“She feeds them. She attends to medical needs, diapers, does whatever she can,” Napiorkowski said. “The problem is right now, though, she said they’re literally out of food.”
Additionally, Napiorkowski said she decided to research Airbnb rentals in Russia and send information to a dozen random hosts there about what was being reported about the war in Ukraine. She hopes this will help combat disinformation fueled by the Russian government and perhaps turn public opinion against Vladimir Putin.
“I don’t think the Russian people are bad at all. They are good people, and I think if they knew the truth, more people would take to the streets and rise up,” Napiorkowski said. “I personally think the only way to stop Putin is by the Russian people themselves.”
It is unclear, however, whether messaging with Russian Airbnb hosts will be allowed to continue as company CEO Brian Chesky tweeted Thursday night that all operations in Russia and Belarus are now suspended.
Airbnb responded on Friday to what Texans are doing to support Ukrainians through its app. “We are so touched by the inspiring generosity of our community at this time of crisis,” spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco said in a statement.
The company has already pledged to help find free temporary accommodation for up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Airbnb too launched a web page strictly devoted to aid to Ukrainewhich the company claims had over 357,000 visitors on that page alone.
The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine has now reached 1.2 million, the International Organization for Migration announced on Friday. It could become the “biggest refugee crisis of this century”, the UN said, predicting that up to 4 million people could leave.