The 'Pay, Don't Stay' Movement, Airbnb Offer Help and Hope to Ukrainians

"Up until last Tuesday, I didn’t know anyone in Ukraine, and now I know several of these people and I care what happens to them. Their families. Their communities,” Sarah Brown said.  “It matters to me.”

People across the world are showing their support and solidarity for those in need by booking Airbnbs in Ukraine that will help the ailing country as the Ukrainian-Russian conflict rages on.

Sarah Brown of Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of those people. 

Like so many, Brown told Inside Edition Digital how devastated she and her colleague were seeing all the images of mothers with their babies, and their children, in such despair, fleeing the country.

“We were both feeling so helpless," she said, "We said we wish we could give them a hug."

Within a few hours, Brown, who manages Airbnbs through her Park City, Utah, company, Ghost Host Properties, had a eureka moment.

“I was messaging a few guests and then said, wait a minute, we have a way to communicate with these people," said Brown,

"We immediately got onto Airbnb. We booked a place and said, ‘Hey we are just sending you some love. We are not really coming.'"

That was last Tuesday when Brown and her colleague booked an Airbnb in Kyiv. Within thirty minutes of the booking, she said she got a response from the host, in the war-torn country.

“We were so excited," Brown said enthusiastically. "We found a way to connect with people we didn’t know yesterday."

She said Ekaterina Martiusheva, the host of the Airbnb she booked, manages 30 apartments in central Kyiv, a role similar to what Brown does in Utah.

Inside Edition Digital reached out to Martiusheva, but as reports of fighting escalated, we did not hear back from her.

However, last week when Martiusheva spoke to NPR, she told them how much the donations meant since they currently have no income. She told the news outlet that the money has helped her pay some staff who have fled to western Ukraine. She said the money has also helped assist the elderly neighbors in her community with food and transportation. 

Additional money donated will go towards the Ukrainian army. 

Martiusheva said many Airbnb property owners live abroad, most are not Ukrainian but explained that these property owners recognize that the funds coming in are for Ukrainian people and that they are not asking for any money back.  

Brown said as soon as she went on social media and on different forums to share her acts of kindness, others began to follow suit.

“Last Tuesday and Wednesday it was just a lot of my close friends and a lot of other Airbnb hosts reaching out to me telling me it was a great idea and telling me they are going to do it and then it started picked up really quickly,” she said. 

Now Brown has been busy trying to do more guests bookings at other Airbnbs. So far, she is connecting with another in Odessa, and another, in Kharkiv.

She is said she is also making sure to stay in touch with Martiusheva, and the other hosts.

“Up until last Tuesday, I didn’t know anyone in Ukraine, and now I know several of these people and I care what happens to them. Their families. Their communities,” she said.  “It matters to me.”

The last time she spoke with Martiusheva, she noticed that she appeared more stressed and worried compared to the first time they connected. 

“Her first message was, ‘Thank you so much. We are staying strong, Victory will be soon,’” Brown said, “She is always so optimistic but her last message was, “Sarah I am really struggling, I don’t have much energy to do much, but just survive right now. Let’s talk in a few days.”

Brown admitted, “It caught me off guard. As silly as it sounds. It is just a reminder of what they are experiencing and living through. I'm worried about her well-being."

Tommy Marcus, also known as Quentin Quarantino, describes himself as the guy who “makes memes on Instagram and raises money for charitable causes."

Like Brown, he has been encouraging people to join the grassroots movement sweeping the nation, “Pay. Don’t Stay.”

On March 3, he tweeted: “Yesterday I shared an idea to support Ukraine by booking rooms for rent on Airbnb. 24 hours later, 100's people are booking AirBnBs in Ukraine as a way to send immediate monetary assistance to people in hard-hit areas. The messages in response from the hosts are so moving,” he wrote.

Marcus's Twitter handle @Quentin.Quarantino may sound familiar, since he is the same person who was trying to help with evacuation flights for Afghans fleeing the Taliban in August, through the initiative “Operation Flyaway."

At the time, Marcus asked nearly 7k followers to help. Today, his outreach has grown with more than 11K.

Brown said that she never met Marcus personally but said she “admires him from afar.” 

“Love him. Love him,” she said. “He has been sharing this all over and it is one of those things. His reach is so Bohemic. It is incredible.” 

Brown told Inside Edition Digital that the bookings that are being done are not meant to replace donations to critical organizations like the Red Cross, among others. 

“This is a way for us to connect to an individual, and once we got that connection, the next step is to give to Red Cross, give to CORE, give to, give to organizations that know how to give help," Brown said.

She added: "These organizations are efficient, organized, and know how to get supplies and money to where it is needed.  And, they are here for the long run in those countries helping those refugees."

When they last spoke, Brown said Martiusheva asked that people donate to the Ukrainian army. 

Brown hopes that as the days, weeks, and months pass, people will still continue to pay attention and book Airbnb and help support the Ukrainian people.

Haven Thorn, a spokesperson with Airbnb told Inside Edition Digital that the company has received an overwhelming response from individuals looking to support the effort.

According to Thorn, more than 31,000 hosts on have signed up to offer their homes to refugees around the world, including more than 17,000 new hosts, who have signed up in just the past week. And, more than 1.4 million have visited since the company launched the page on March 2.

Additionally, Airbnb is temporarily waiving guest and host fees on bookings in Ukraine at this time, he said.  "We are so humbled by the inspiring generosity of our community during this moment of crisis," Thorn said.

Olga Thomas, who owns an Airbnb in Bucharest, Romania, where she grew up and where her family and her friends live, has given her apartment to a group of mothers and children, who are all Ukrainian refugees.

“We have all been watching what is happening. It is horrendous. It is hard to find the words to express how it makes us feel what we see,” Thomas told Inside Edition Digital from her home in Milwaukee, where she has been living for the last 16 years.

“My friends back home are experiencing firsthand the effects and result of what is going on in Ukraine.”

She said that her 2-bedroom apartment, located in the historic district of Bucharest, can take two families, and up to 10 people.

“Over 500,000 have crossed the border into Romania. They need housing. They need everything. Their whole life is in a suitcase. It is hard for me to imagine what they are going through,” Thomas said. “They need a lot of support. It is not just me hundreds of thousands of Romanians have opened their homes to them.”

Anna, a refugee from Ukraine, is one of the mothers who is staying at Thomas' home, with her children.

“Anna was able to cross the border with her car and she is using her vehicle to transport other people coming to different cities especially, Bucharest," Thomas said. "She picks them up wherever help is needed.”

She added: “We need transportation, we need housing. They [the refugees] are coming in every minute."

Despite the tremendous ordeal that Anna is facing having no home, and experiencing so much uncertainty, Thomas said that Anna told her, "I don't want to be a victim, I want to help."

Thomas continued, "She told me my story inspired her. It empowered her to get involved and to help other refugees.”

On Tuesday, Thomas said Anna asked if she can bring in a few more refugees to her home. Thomas told her to “bring in as many women as you feel comfortable.”

Both women stay in touch as frequently as they can. And, she told her if more people are coming to let her know if she needs any extra mattresses.

“I have such a great support system in Bucharest. My friends are stocking the refrigerator. Bringing over groceries, so Anna and the other mothers won’t have to spend money," she said. “They need to save money now because they don’t know what tomorrow will bring so we are trying to supply them with everything they need, especially, diapers, clothing, and food.”

Thomas explained that historically the Romanians and Ukrainians were not friendly, so this act of selflessness and kindness taking place in her homeland has been awe-inspiring. 

"Oh my god, that is the thing that makes me feel really proud of my fellow Romanian. Alot of Ukrainians were avoiding coming into Romania because of what the schools and history books are teaching that we are not friends, but we are all people. These are conflicts we had hundreds of years ago,” Thomas said.

She added: “We are welcoming them with open arms.” 

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