People are fleeing Ukraine – this guide organizes tours along the way

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 listened to Olga Dudakova live tours in Ukraine following 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 visit 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 broadcasting live, Dudakova said she was arrested by the police because speaking English in public arouses suspicion – a situation that unfolded in front of viewers, some of whom commented about it on the tour webpage.

“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.

Online visits

Dudakova’s tours are streamed live on Salvation, a virtual travel agency that 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 be, but people who follow his tour channel will be notified when it 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.”

They can physically occupy space, territory, but they can never overcome people and spirit.

Olga Dudakova

Heygo Tour Guide