People are fleeing Ukraine – this guide organizes tours along the way
His virtual tours around Kiev normally attract between 30 and 100 people.
But more than 1,800 people followed Olga Dudakova’s live tours in Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
The first tour was scheduled with only hours notice, she said.
“It was totally improvised,” she said. “I had no plan…I just wanted to show my soul and the tragedy of the situation….This war is totally unjustified and it was not provoked.”
Dudakova said so many people were asking questions during the online tour that she could barely read them because they scrolled by too quickly. She said people ask basic questions like, what’s going on? Where is the bombardment? What is the reason for the war?
But she didn’t have the answers, she said.
“I don’t know why we are attacked,” she said. “We are a peaceful country.”
The realities of war
CNBC spoke to Dudakova four days after she left Kyiv for the safety of a small town. Her family was in such a rush to leave that she put on a pair of shoes which she later realized were mismatched.
It was there that Dudakova held her second tour, titled “A small town to hide from the bombings”. While live-streaming, Dudakova said she was arrested by police because speaking English in public raised suspicion – a situation that unfolded in front of viewers, some of whom commented on the page Tour website.
“The way Olga treated the police who questioned her was both terrifying and heartwarming,” read one review. “This incident has done more to remind me of the horrors of war than all the news broadcasts I have heard and seen.”
Now even this small town is no longer safe, Dudakova said. The Russian army is approaching, she says. When local authorities told residents to buy enough food and water for a month, Dudakova decided to join the estimated 1.5 million residents who fled Ukraine, a statistic tweeted this week by Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“It’s weird, you know, I’m a tour guide. … I often talk about war – the atrocities that happened in wartime,” she said. “But when you’re in the circumstances, it’s absolutely different.”
Dudakova compared Putin to a “hurt bear” who has been “humiliated” on the international stage. “We don’t know what he’s going to do in the end,” she said.
Dudakova’s tours are streamed live on Heygo, a virtual travel agency that was launched during the pandemic. She called the website her main source of inspiration right now – a direct line to share what she sees and experiences with people around the world.
“To the Heygo audience, I’m sort of the representative of Ukraine, the representative of Kyiv, because they can see what’s really going on,” she said. “And, to me, they’re like a community that really helped me.”
Olga Dudakova has compared Putin to a “hurt bear” who has been “humiliated” on the international stage, she told CNBC.
Source: Olga Dudakova
Tours are free, although viewers can tip. Before the invasion, people normally gave around 2 to 5 euros ($2 to 5) each, she said.
But that has since changed, Dudakova said. Viewer support now helps fund her escape from Ukraine, she said.
Dudakova was already a popular guide on Heygo, said Ani Chemilian, the company’s chief of staff. But his decision to run tours during the invasion allowed him to connect with more travelers online than ever before, Chemilian said.
“Dudakova’s first tour after the news of the Russian invasion put her in the top 3 most booked experiences on Heygo,” she said. “The other two are an Icelandic volcanic eruption and a haunted London tour.”
Dudakova said she doesn’t know when her next tour will take place, but people who follow her tour channel will be notified when she plans to reconnect. It can be on short notice, she said, mainly due to intermittent internet connectivity.
An uncertain future
Dudakova said her youngest child was not sleeping well and was frightened by slamming doors and other loud noises.
Yet, she says, others have it worse. “We’re pretty lucky because what’s happening in other cities… I don’t have words to describe what’s going on there. The things that are happening there are just amazing.”
She said she felt the international reaction was slow at first, but it has accelerated, especially with the piling up of sanctions and the decision to disconnect some Russian banks from SWIFT, the interbank messaging system.
However, she said, Ukraine cannot win the battle alone. “If you can look at the map the size of Russia and the size of your Ukraine, it’s like David and Goliath,” she said.
Despite the devastation, Dudakova said the Ukrainian people were united.
Russia “can physically occupy space, territory, but it can never defeat people and spirit,” she said. “What we are seeing now is the revival of the Ukrainian spirit.”