Meeting the Ukraine crisis with immediate support
In the week after Russia invaded Ukraine, performer and Host Rafał could sense its impact on his hometown of Wroclaw in southwestern Poland. Boxes of donated supplies piled up outside a Ukrainian cultural centre in his neighbourhood. He heard Ukrainian spoken on the streets and in the shops.
Soon three families from Ukraine had booked month-long stays, back to back, at the house he lists on Airbnb. Concerned about charging people fleeing a war, Rafał contacted Airbnb customer service, learned that Airbnb.org could subsidise his efforts and signed up.
According to the UN Human Rights Council, almost 7 million people fled Ukraine in the six months following the February 2022 invasion. Millions of families arrived in cities all over Europe with just a few suitcases and no idea when they might return home.
Some people who responded to the call, like Rafał, are longtime Airbnb Hosts who offer stays at a discount through Airbnb.org in this time of crisis. Others, like Mary, an American data scientist living in Berlin, were among the 40,000 new Hosts who opted in to offer free or discounted stays through Airbnb.org to refugee guests.
Finding an immediate way to help
Rafał says the invasion of Ukraine threw everyone he knew in Poland into a state of shock, yet he was amazed by how quickly his friends and neighbours responded to the influx of people fleeing the war. People donated food at the Wroclaw train station and gathered supplies to deliver to the Ukraine border.
He began organising a musical benefit with his colleagues, but he also wanted to find a more immediate way to help. “It’s one of the worst things not to have a place to stay, a place to sleep, a place to come back to”, he says.
Rafał continues to list his house through Airbnb.org to welcome guests displaced by crises. He has also helped interpret Airbnb.org webinars into Polish.
Offering a safe space
In Berlin, about 215 miles (350 kilometres) northwest of Wroclaw, Mary followed the news on the invasion of Ukraine. When she saw Airbnb.org’s call to action online, she listed her flat free of charge.
A staff member from Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM), one of Airbnb.org’s partners, got in touch. As many news outlets have reported, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Ukraine and some surrounding countries has added to the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ people displaced during this conflict. The ORAM representative asked Mary if two transgender people could stay at her place.
Mary was happy to host LGBTQ+ guests. “I knew that my apartment was a particularly safe space for them”, she says.
Soon after Mary’s first guests left, Dima arrived to stay for two weeks. A gay man in his 20s, Dima was living in Kyiv when Russians began bombing the city. A grassroots organisation named Safebow helped Dima and his cat, Peach, travel through Poland to Berlin. There, ORAM helped him find housing and register for social services.
After a trip filled with obstacles, arriving at Mary’s apartment was a relief for Dima. “I was so emotional those first days”, he says. “I don’t even know which part was more important for me: being in a safe space or just understanding the amount of support that I’m receiving.”
Mary was out of town for the first week of Dima’s stay. When she returned to Berlin, the two clicked. They spent hours at her kitchen table, sharing meals and drinking beers. They stayed in touch after he moved into another apartment.
“It was a gigantic boost to my start here”, Dima says.
Making a difference
Mary keeps reflecting on how easy hosting felt. “I didn’t do anything especially remarkable”, she insists. “I took a chance. I was maybe only slightly inconvenienced.”
She contrasts that with the stories her guests have shared: “I think about having to deal with [things] in a totally foreign place, where I didn’t choose to be, separated from my family. That’s remarkable. That’s difficult.”
Mary didn’t expect to make friends with her guests, but she’s delighted by the sense of community that developed.
“A lot of times, with the efforts that we put into things, we don’t necessarily see the results”, she says. “But with this, I could make a difference in at least one person’s life.”
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