Charla Huber: Why I booked a Ukrainian vacation I don’t plan to take

This past week, I started to see social media posts about people booking Airbnbs in Ukraine as a way to support people in the war-torn country.

This past week, I started to see social media posts about people booking Airbnbs in Ukraine as a way to support people in the war-torn country.

I was intrigued at the innovative way to get involved, and eventually found my way onto the Airbnb website, looking at home-rental options in Ukraine.

The experience was far greater than a mere donation and no one on the site was actively soliciting. I scrolled through photos of the insides of people’s homes and views from their windows. I read their profiles and reviews. It humanized the situation for me.

I booked a couple of nights in a home in Odesa, 1.1 kilometers from the beach. The two-level studio has enough beds to sleep seven people. After booking, I sent the host a message letting her know that I was not traveling and wanted to help support her in a small way.

The host’s name is Irina. She wrote me back and explained that she is a part of the “Host Relief Program” and is providing shelter to women and children who are “escaping bombs.”

Irina does not speak English, but we were able to communicate using the translate option on the Airbnb website. We sent a few messages back and forth.

We have all donated money to charity in various forms, but I have never had this experience when donating funds. Using Airbnb was a fascinating way to contribute and gain a personal connection with someone I will never meet who is living through an unthinkable experience.

I know that I will never fully grasp what people in Ukraine are going through, and hearing from people living there offered a sliver of understanding.

The words of Irina haunted me. “We are happy to help in any way we can. Long lines to travel through our city. Long lines of women and children, they escape bombs,” she wrote.

The experience was surreal. I went on a website, picked a random stranger and offered a small token of support.

After booking the studio and reading messages from Irina, I decided to commit to booking a Ukrainian vacation and started to peruse the Airbnb experiences that were available in Odesa.

I booked a wine tour hosted by a man named Yuri, and a bike tour hosted by a man named Oleg. Both hosts emailed me back and shared their gratitude. Oleg sent me some photos of what the bike tour would have included, but also wrote: “For security reasons, I cannot show you all of Odesa.”

Booking my trip to Ukraine was one of the most personally impactful donations I have ever made.

Whoever came up with this method of sending support and compassion to people in Ukraine is brilliant. I foresee sites such as Airbnb as a future method of supporting others.

Along with my donation, I learned about Ukraine. I visualized myself there as I booked my trip. I saw photos inside people’s homes and glimpses of how they live, and was told by the people who received them that my small donations were making a difference.

Regardless of our differences, we are more alike than we are different. Airbnb removed the barriers of language and distance, and allowed care, compassion and love to be shared with strangers living through a terrifying experience.

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