I booked an Airbnb in Ukraine as a donation. My host told me about the fight for her land — and her future.

Buildings in Lviv, Ukraine at sunset.
Lviv, Ukraine.Getty Images
  • Since the Russian invasion, more than 400,000 Airbnb nights have been booked in Ukraine.

  • The bookings aren't for actual stays; they're for donations. I joined in and connected with a host in Lviv.

  • "I do not want to leave my homeland," she told me. "Here are my parents; here my (future) child must be born."

On Friday night, I lay restless in bed listening to the muffled sounds of a nearby car alarm going off somewhere in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Halfway across the world, in a different time zone, a stranger named Anna hadn't slept in days. She could hear the faint sounds of air raid sirens outside her home in Lviv, the largest city in Western Ukraine.

While my sleepless night was the result of the atrocities I'd witnessed on the news during the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier that evening, Anna was left to wonder what tomorrow might bring to her now war-ravaged country.

Shortly after a February 24 television address where Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed modern Ukraine was a threat to Russia, effectively declaring war on the country, Lviv's stores began boarding up and closing. Citizens stood single-file patiently waiting for the ATM, hoping there would still be enough cash in it by the time it was their turn, and the city instituted a mandatory curfew in effect daily from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

As I sat at my kitchen table the next morning, sipping a cup of tea and reading the latest news out of Ukraine, my phone vibrated with a calendar reminder for the two-bedroom apartment in Lviv I'd impulsively booked on Airbnb earlier that day.

My reservation was four hours away. Yet there I sat, unshowered, still in my pajamas and without any bags packed, moving in slow motion.

I'd created an Airbnb account in 2013, and yet I'd never booked accommodations before this one — a room I never planned to use. When I began scrolling for accommodations in those peaceful morning hours before sunrise, I didn't concern myself with the typical things that first-world travelers often do. I wasn't interested in the views, how walkable the location might be, the proximity to places of interest, or, dare I say, the thread counts of the sheets. I didn't seek restaurant recommendations from my network or post questions in the myriad of online travel groups I belong to.

My only requirement was that the accommodations were available immediately. When I found a place with availability, I booked it for two nights for a total of $180, knowing the funds would be directed to the host within 24 hours of check-in.

When my reservation was confirmed, I messaged my host, Anna, to let her know I wouldn't be coming and to please accept my payment as a gesture of solidarity and support. Though extremely grateful, I'm sure she wasn't surprised.

Ever since the concept went viral two weeks ago, people from around the world have booked Airbnb reservations in Ukraine in an effort to quickly and securely get money into the hands of people on the ground there. The movement even prompted Airbnb to waive its usual fees, and according to a March 11 tweet from Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, 434,000 nights had been booked on Airbnb in Ukraine. A total of $15 million had gone directly to hosts.

(It's important to note, however, that not all Airbnbs in Ukraine are tied to small local hosts. During any major world event like this one, it's important to research where your donations are going. This Skift story has good tips on how to do that.)

But beyond the financial transactions, reservation requests are now accompanied by sympathetic notes from people all over the world who often receive missives of gratitude from their virtual hosts along with a snapshot of what life is like for them right now.

When I sent my own note, I got a response within an hour.

"All my adult life, I have been hosting guests from different countries around the world," Anna wrote. "I show them Lviv, I tell them about Ukraine. Now, we are fighting for the right to live on our land.

"I do not want to leave my homeland. Here are my parents; here my (future) child must be born."

Right now, Ukrainians are evacuating their cities in droves. Since Anna and her Airbnb partner Oksana have a number of reservation bookings from people like me who aren't actually using their accommodations, the duo has opened their apartments up to displaced Ukrainians in their city. I know this because Anna and I now communicate regularly.

I wish there was more I could do, and I'm far from the only one. That's reflected by the fact that an overwhelming number of people are renting these Airbnbs in an effort to help innocent people in the midst of such turmoil.

This gesture has allowed me and thousands of others around the world to provide both financial and emotional support to people who desperately need it. For that reason alone, booking Anna's Airbnb was the best trip I never went on.

Read the original article on Business Insider