SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - Thousands of Airbnb users have booked vacation rentals in war-battered Ukraine, not to visit but to provide aid to local hosts struggling to survive the Russian invasion.
Over a two-day period last week, about US$1.9 million (S$2.5 million) was spent on reservations for more than 61,000 nights in Ukraine, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based company told AFP on Tuesday (March 8).
The outpouring of support came as Airbnb announced a suspension of its business in Russia and Belarus, joining a United States tech freeze-out of Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
After booking their rentals on Airbnb, some users shared on social media the heart-stirring responses they received from Ukrainian hosts thanking them for financial and moral support.
One user told AFP that she and her husband had made reservations in the besieged cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv.
"You have people who are in the middle of an active crisis," said Ms Meghan Bamford of Edmonton, Canada.
"If you can get money directly into their accounts, that's the difference between somebody being forced to stay in somewhere like Kyiv or surrounding communities or potentially being able to get out."
Ms Bamford and her husband still donate to relief organisations, but said they used Airbnb to quickly get cash directly to Ukrainians.
Airbnb did not start the campaign, but actively supports it.
Chief executive Brian Chesky has taken to Twitter to broadcast messages from users who have stepped up to help Ukrainian hosts.
Ms Bamford said hosts have expressed to her in messages how terrifying the war is, and how thankful they were to know the world is watching.
"It's very humbling to sit at home in Canada, very safe and comfortable, and just realise that you're hearing from these people who are in the middle of everything you're seeing everywhere," Ms Bamford told AFP.
"If someone had told me five years ago that Airbnb would become a viable form of wartime communication, I would have thought that was crazy."
Airbnb announced last week that it would offer free short-term stays to up to 100,000 people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
About 28,000 Airbnb hosts around the world, including 2,800 in France, are currently offering accommodation for refugees, and donations of more than US$1.2 million have poured into its refugee fund, the company told AFP.