As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to impact more Ukrainians, some US companies are thinking outside the box with unconventional methods for helping. Aside from direct monetary contributions to Ukraine and cutting economic ties with Russia, companies are also providing free shelter and transportation, along with other unique services that benefit Ukrainians.
This week, Airbnb announced it was making available free housing to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. The company also launched a special service that lets users offer housing for Ukrainian refugees or donate directly.
Airbnb users are also getting creative. Many have been booking stays in Ukraine — with no intention of actually going — to transfer money quickly to residents in need. According to Airbnb representative Haven Thorn, more than 61,000 users booked stays in Ukraine on March 2 and 3, contributing more than $2 million to homeowners there.
Other US companies are also offering Ukraine unconventional supports. In order to help those fleeing violence, Tesla is letting owners of any model electric vehicle use its Supercharger stations near the Ukraine borders in Hungary and Poland. Founder Elon Musk has also activated Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite internet service, to ensure Ukrainians have reliable internet access.
T-Mobile, Verizon and several other phone carriers have lowered or waived charges for calls to Ukraine, with some including local calls made within the country.
Here are some of the companies offering services to Ukrainians in need, and ways that you can help support their efforts.
Airbnb opens up ‘virtual’ bookings
On their own, some Airbnb users are booking rentals in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine — not to visit but to quickly provide locals with much needed financial assistance.
On Thursday, UK events planner Mario DiMaggio tweeted that he and his wife booked a week at an Airbnb residence in Kyiv “simply as a means of getting money directly into the hands of Kiev residents.”
“Of course we will not be visiting,” he told the host in a written exchange. “This is just so you can receive some money. We wish we could do more to help you and the people of Kiev.”
Another Twitter user wrote that he shared the idea of virtual booking in Ukraine and “24 hours later, 100s of people are booking AirBnBs in Ukraine as a way to send immediate monetary assistance to people in hard-hit areas.”
According to the Airbnb site, there are more than 300 host properties across Ukraine — most in Kyiv, with some in Lviv and Odesa. Almost all are renting for less than $50 (US) a night.
Though the program isn’t being run by Airbnb, the company is waiving all guest and host fees in Ukraine.
“We are so humbled by the inspiring generosity of our community during this moment of crisis,” an Airbnb spokesperson told CNET.
Travel expert Simon Calder did caution that the well-intentioned campaign could attract con artists.
“Were I a Russian scammer, I would be setting up fake Airbnbs in Kiev and Odessa as fast as I could to cash in on those noble intentions,” Calder tweeted.
Separately, if you have a spare room or residence, you can offer a bed and basic amenities to Ukrainian refugees for a few days to a few weeks, for free or at a discounted rate.
“The greatest need we have is for more people who can offer their homes in nearby countries — including Poland, Germany, Hungary and Romania,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a statement.
The room-rental company’s nonprofit wing, Airbnb.org, is partnering with nonprofits to vet refugees, and it’s also pitching in $1 million in liability insurance, $1 million in damage protection, and other services.
People interested in opening their home can get more details on the Airbnb.org site.
Uber offers free rides
In the US, people can use the Uber app to give the International Rescue Committee direct donations, which Uber says it’ll match up to $1 million.
To help refugees fleeing the conflict, the ride-hailing app is offering unlimited free rides from the Ukraine-Polish border to the cities of Lublin, in central Poland, and Rzeszow, in the southeast. Uber users in Hrebenne, Dolhobyczow and other Polish border towns can enter special codes to get a free ride to or from the checkpoints.
The company is also offering free transportation to staff at migrant welcome centers and for the delivery of donated goods at various warehouse locations throughout Poland.
Though it temporarily paused services throughout Ukraine when the invasion began, Uber says it’s assessing ride-sharing on a city-by-city basis, and offering advance payments to drivers in the war-torn country.
In a release, Uber said it was also working to enable Ukrainian refugees to become Uber drivers “in neighboring countries where we operate.”
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Etsy cancels fees
The online craft market doesn’t have rides to offer or places for people to stay, but it’s eliminating fees for Ukraine-based sellers.
“Many sellers are facing tremendous financial hardship as a result of the turmoil,” Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said in a release on Monday. “To alleviate some of the burden, we are canceling the current balances owed to Etsy by all sellers in Ukraine, which includes listing fees, transaction fees, advertising fees and more.”
The effort, which includes Etsy sites Depop, and Reverb, represents a contribution of approximately $4 million, Silverman said.
Some Etsy sellers are donating a portion of proceeds from Ukraine-themed products to nonprofits like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.