(CNN) — Volodymyr Bondarenko spends most of his day locked up in his apartment in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
Between listening to air raid sirens and frantically texting his family for updates, he exchanges messages with a flurry of Airbnb guests booking his one-bedroom rental in the heart of Ukraine’s capital.
Sometimes it sends a crying emoji. Other times, the praying hands emoji. It’s his way of thanking those who book his apartment, even if they have no intention of ever showing up at his door.
Airbnb hosts in Ukraine are inundated with bookings from people around the world who have no intention of visiting. It’s part of a creative social media campaign to funnel money to embattled Ukrainians in need of financial aid as Russian forces bombard their country and cut services.
The idea gained momentum. On March 2 and 3, travelers from around the world booked more than 61,000 nights in Ukraine, according to an Airbnb spokesperson. More than half of those nights were booked by Americans, the spokesperson said.
CNN spoke to people in the US, UK and Australia who have booked Ukrainian rentals on Airbnb in recent days.
“More than 10 bookings have been registered today. It was surprising, it’s very encouraging at the moment,” Bondarenko, 36, told CNN early Friday. “I have told many of my relatives and friends that I intend to use this money to help our people who are in need at this time.”
Ukrainian soldiers unload weapons from the trunk of an old car northeast of Kiev, Ukraine.
Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
People leave messages of support for their Ukrainian hosts
Campaign organizers are also urging people to make sure rentals are run by individuals, not businesses.
New York resident Anne Margaret Daniel saw Airbnb’s social media posts and took action.
In his reservation, Daniel included a message for the host:
“I hope you and your lovely apartment are safe and this horrible war is over…and Ukraine is safe,” he said. “I will come to see you one day, count on it, and I will stay with you when we visit. God bless you and God be with you, your city, your country.”
Her host, Olga Zviryanskaya, responded quickly.
“We will be happy to see you in the peaceful city of Kyiv and hug you,” she said.
Zviryanskaya and her three children have lived in the capital for years. After Russian forces invaded and threw the town into turmoil, she put her children and some belongings in a car and fled to the area near Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine. The 100 mile journey took nine hours.
Now Zviryanskaya allows people who have no way out of Kiev to stay in her apartment. Messages from strangers have comforted her as she adjusts to the new reality.
“We are alive, but we want to live as before,” she said. “It’s very scary in Kyiv. Every word of support is precious, not necessarily money.”
One day, after the conflict is over, Daniel hopes to book Zviryanskaya’s apartment again. This time she intends to visit.
People take shelter in the Dorohozhychi metro station, which has been turned into a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
‘You are my heroes’, says Ukrainian host
Andre Osypchuk is a retired sailor and an Airbnb host in Kyiv.
He was surprised to see Brooklyn-based Valerie Zimmer, who was born in Kyiv and stayed in his rental three years ago while visiting family, recently booked his place for a week-long stay .
Osypchuk remains in the city with his wife and two children. It has since implemented an automated message to handle the influx of Airbnb requests.
“Thank you very much for your help, which is so much needed now,” he said. “I have been queuing for food since morning, which I can now buy with the money you sent.”
Zimmer contacted him directly to see how he was doing and to offer his help. She urged her friends to search for similar Airbnb rentals across Ukraine.
“The money will go directly to people, and quickly,” she said.
New York resident Careyann Deyo, 45, booked an Airbnb rental attached to someone’s home in Ukraine to ensure her payment reached a resident.
“I also donated to larger organizations, but I felt it had a more immediate impact,” Deyo says.
Deyo’s host messaged her after finding out she was sending payment even though she hadn’t planned to check in.
“I cry. You are my heroes,” he said.
A member of the Ukrainian military gives instructions to women and children boarding an evacuation train in Irpin, Ukraine.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Airbnb drops guest and host fees
Bondarenko, the Airbnb host in Kyiv, said that while banks are closed in some cities and Airbnb payments may not reach hosts as quickly as usual, financial assistance is comforting in a world full of terror and uncertainty.
Equally important, he and other hosts say, are the words of support they hear from strangers halfway around the world.