These teens created a website matching Ukrainian refugees with host families offering shelter

Avi Schiffmann, a San Diego resident, saw a pro-Ukraine demonstration and was inspired to create the idea. He met hundreds of Ukrainian Americans who were sharing their stories and asking for help.

“I remember thinking, ‘I know how to design websites with big platforms,’ so how could I not do anything to help?”CNN: Schiffmann, 19, said “They need assistance, immediately and on a really big scale, and I had to find a way to make that happen as soon as possible.”

SchiffmannMarco Burstein, a friend and classmate, suggested that he move to Seattle to take a semester off school.

Burstein was in Massachusetts at the time and became entangled during a busy semester. However, the computer science major at 18 signed up for this effort.

The pair spent three days creating, editing, and perfecting a website aimed at helping refugees. Schiffmann says that there were only a few meals between.

Ukraine Gets Shelter March 3rd, 2009. Within one week, more than 4,000 people created listings offering refuge to Ukrainian refugees.

“For me, I’m behind a computer across the world, which is what I’m good at, but it’s very disconnected sometimes,”Schiffmann. “To see so many people from countries in every corner of the world doing something to help these refugees, who need and deserve safety, is really inspiring.”

Schiffmann is not the first person to use his passion for web design in order to help strangers.

He constructed a house during the early days the coronavirus pandemic. WebsiteTo track the impact of Covid-19. In the same year, he also created a website that tracks Black Lives Matter protests across the United States.

“I see it like this: Almost everybody has a smart phone and internet connection,”Schiffmann. “There’s always something happening around the world, an earthquake, a war, a pandemic, and there is always a way to use technology to improve the lives of people in these humanitarian crisis.”

The website has more than 1,000,000 users and more that 25,000 listings. Short-term and long-term hosts around the globe offer everything from spare bedrooms and living room couches to entire homes and apartments.

Schiffmann, Burstein, and others are currently working on a way to allow the site to also aggregate listings from major rentals platforms, such Vrbo or Airbnb, aswell as listings posted by non-profit or government organizations.

The website caught the attention many, including the Ukrainian Government, which responded to one Schiffmann’s tweets.

“Dear Avi Schiffmann, many thanks for your important work,” Ukrain’e Official Twitter account of the government wrote.

“This gives power back to refugees”

Schiffmann and Burstein were focused on making Ukraine Take Shelter as user-friendly as possible when designing it.

“When I researched what tools Ukrainian refugees had to get connected to hosts, they weren’t very efficient,”Schiffmann. “This website allows refugees to not have to sit on a curb in some European country during the winter while they wait for one overwhelmed group or another to connect them.”

“Now they can see tens of thousands of listings around the world ready for them to match with, and all they have to do is call or text them immediately,”He said.

The website design is very simple. Refugees can simply go to the city where they are fleeing to. You can then search for accommodation by browsing the available listings. Each listing has a personalized description.

More than 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia's invasion. Here's where they are now

Finally, the refugee can click the email or phone button to obtain the personal contact information for the listing holder.

The site has been translated in dozens of languages including German, Ukrainian, and Polish.

“This puts power back into the hands of refugees by allowing them to take the initiative, go straight to the website, enter their city and immediately find listings,”Schiffmann. “They don’t need to rely on anyone else to help them find a safe place. There’s millions of refugees, and it’s going to be millions more, so balancing efficiency and security as well as safety is critical.”

Each listing includes information to help refugees find a host, request video calls, ask questions, and recognize red flags.

Schiffmann and Burstein stated that they worked with experts in order to ensure strong cybersecurity.

“It can’t get hacked into, and even if someone tries. There is nothing dangerous that can geolocate the refugees or put their lives at risk,”Schiffmann. “There are safety features to make sure the refugees are in constant contact with the hosts until they arrive.”

They are currently partnering up with major companies, which aren’t yet revealed, to ensure that all listings are verified in order to better guarantee refugee safety.

“We want you to find peace again”

A refugee searching the website for a host in their nearest city is met with dozens, if not hundreds, of options.

Some are young couples with little to offer other than a bed on the floor. Some are large families that offer as much space as they can.

“We want to help you find peace again,”One host from the US submitted a listing.

Many also offer assistance to refugees in need of basic necessities, such as food and clothing. Others offer babysitting assistance. People who are unable to offer their homes may be able to provide assistance in many ways, including pet sitting or money donation.

“I have a place for one person…I know it’s not so much, but I can provide a roof and food until he/she can find a job or a stable situation,”Another host offered to share their apartment in Paris, they stated in their description.

One of the host listings on Ukraine Take Shelter.

Another host in Poland said: “We would like to offer a double room in our home. We don’t have a big house but you will be safe, warm and fed. We have a young child so feel we could best help someone with also a young child or baby.”

There are many interactions taking place across the globe. Ukraine Gets Shelter Schiffmann said that one story would stay with him for the rest his life.

A family in Kharkiv was looking to escape Ukraine.

The family fled after they found a host in France who offered their home. Three days later, the family discovered that their entire home, including the basement, had been completely destroyed.

“That’s what made me realize how real this was, that this website isn’t just helping people find housing, it’s saving their lives,”He said.

The website will no longer be needed after the war ends. The pair plan to increase their efforts in helping asylum seekers find a place they can call home, even if only for a short time.

“I have plans to expand to all refugees in general, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, any victims of natural disasters or wars,”Schiffmann. “It is just as important they can find available housing, too, and we’re going to make that happen.”


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