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Americans seek to help Ukrainians by booking rental homes

(NEW YORK) — Americans like Chris and Amy Clary are booking Airbnb vacation rentals online in a bid to help Ukrainians directly amid Russian attacks of the Eastern European country.

The Clarys are in Texas but they’ve booked five Airbnbs in Kyiv and outside the capital.

“We wanted to get money into people that are living there. And they’re desperate for funds, obviously for food, maybe to get out of town,” Chris Clary told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

Airbnb said it is “humbled by the inspiring generosity” of people looking to help through the platform.

“Airbnb is temporarily waiving guest and Host fees on bookings in Ukraine at this time,” the San Francisco-based company told GMA in a statement.

The company said on March 2 and 3, it saw more than 61,000 bookings in Ukraine, including more than 34,000 by U.S. guests. It has also set up a website — Airbnb.org — dedicated to helping people in emergencies. There have been over 1.2 million visits to the site already.

“Airbnb allows them to get funds almost immediately and directly to the source,” said Chris Clary. “I believe it’s important because those people need as much assistance as possible and as quickly as possible.”

Added his wife Amy: “I get to chat with the host. You know, find out how they’re doing. Are they OK? And ask questions. And it really makes it like a personal connection to what’s going on in Ukraine and to the Ukrainian people.”

The Clarys said they try to look for Airbnb listings that feature family photos and reviews from past bookings. They also send messages to hosts first with questions before booking.

“When you get the messages back, they are incredibly grateful. It really brings you to tears whenever you read them,” Chris Clary said.

The Clarys say they’ve inspired friends to do the same and hope to keep the momentum going, looking next into booking short-term stays in Poland, which borders Ukraine to the northwest.

Celebrities are also joining the growing number of people looking to help people caught in the Russian and Ukrainian conflict that began on Feb. 24.

Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher launched an online fundraiser called “Stand With Ukraine” to help Ukrainians. In a video message introducing the campaign, Kunis said she was born in Ukraine and emigrated to the U.S. in 1991 with her family and has “never been more proud to be a Ukrainian.”

Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have also announced they would match donations up to $1 million for the nonprofit UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.

Bethenny Frankel, the former reality TV star, has also used her BStrong initiative to get aid to Ukraine and neighboring countries like Poland, Hungary and Romania.

Former Dancing With the Stars choreographer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who recently escaped Ukraine amid the escalating conflict, said he’s also working to help people in the region with his wife, dancer Peta Murgatroyd. They said they’ve started an Amazon store where people can buy items for people in need.

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