2 Harvard teens develop website to help refugees find housing

Harvard student Avi Schiffmann was attending a pro-Ukrainian protest during a visit to San Diego last month when he came up with the idea of ​​creating a website connecting Ukrainian refugees with hosts around the world, so that they can easily find accommodation.

“I felt like I had the skills to really do something here with the technology to help the few hundred million people in Ukraine and all of Eastern Europe,” Schiffmann told Wednesday. FOX Television Stations Group.

Avi Schiffmann (left) and Marco Burstein (right) (Credit; Avi Schiffmann)

Through his research, he found that the websites currently offering to host refugees were cumbersome and “not up to par at all”.

It was then that the 19-year-old contacted his classmate Marco Burstein, 18, to help develop the idea.

Burstein, who is currently studying computer science at Harvard, agreed to help Schiffmann, and in just three days the Ukraine Take Shelter platform was completed.

RELATED: US accepts up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, extends sanctions on Russia

“I really felt like I just needed to get it out as soon as possible,” Schiffman continued, noting his desire to create a site that “really puts the power back in the hands of the refugee,” while still being user-friendly. “

These people are running from live gunfire, explosives, are lost and confused, or are in a foreign country in a language they don’t speak,” Schiffmann said, adding, “They just need to be able to use this site. web and get the information they need as quickly as possible.”

Since launching Ukraine Take Shelter on March 3, he said the response has been “incredible”, citing a story that stuck in his mind.


Ukraine Take Shelter website homepage and search page. (Credit: Avi Schiffmann)

A family, hiding in a basement in Kharkiv, sought to escape as their city was besieged by Russian troops.

They were able to use the website to find a host in France, so the family fled. Three days after arriving, the family discovered that their entire house in Ukraine had been destroyed by bombs.

“So this story was really amazing to me, because this website is not only able to help people find housing, but in a way, has also saved their lives,” Schiffmann added.

And it’s not the first time the teenager has used his tech background to help people.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he developed a website to track the impacts of the coronavirus. He also created a website during the Black Lives Matter protests.

“I think it’s amazing what you can do with technology these days,” he concluded. “The internet has not been fully explored for what you can do in a humanitarian sense.”

What is Ukraine Take Shelter?

UkraineTakeShelter.com is an independent platform connecting Ukrainian refugees with potential hosts and accommodation.

The website design is simple to use. Refugees can go straight to the site, where they are greeted by a search bar and can enter the nearest town where they hope to flee. Each advertisement is accompanied by a description of the accommodation.

The website has also been translated into dozens of native languages, including Ukrainian, Polish and German.

The organization encourages anyone who has space available to post a list and mark their list as full once they have successfully hosted refugees.

US to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees

This news comes as thousands continue to flee Ukraine.

On Thursday, the White House announced that the United States would extend its sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukrainetargeting members of the country’s parliament and central bank gold reserves.

At the same time, Washington said it would increase its humanitarian assistance by welcoming 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and providing an additional $1 billion in food, medicine, water and other supplies.

The White House announced the initiatives as US President Joe Biden and world leaders meet in Brussels for a trio of summits in response to the Russian invasion, seeking new ways to limit the economic and security fallout from the conflict.

This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.

Daniel L. Vasquez