A Harvard University student is pairing Ukrainian refugees fleeing their homes in the war-torn country with people who provide spare rooms or a couch to sleep in in their homes around the world.
en Schiffmann, a 19-year-old neurophilosophy student, says he launched the website Ukraine Take Shelter to help the more than two million Ukrainians who have so far escaped the Russian attack as they desperately try to find shelters.
“I realized that the tools out there to help refugees find housing are really low,” he said.
“Many of these refugees were escaping on foot amid explosions and shelling. They are stressed, confused and scared and they are in new countries where they do not understand the language.
“And then they are just expected to enter a government website filled with jargon and nonsense and wait to be compared to somewhere to stay.”
In the two weeks since Russia declared war, people from countries around the world have rallied to support the people of Ukraine, donating items and sending money.
Many have offered to accept refugees into their homes but social media accounts have revealed frustration with the ability to turn these offers into reality.
In the week since Ukraine Take Shelter launched, thousands of people from “almost every country on the planet” have now posted listings offering their entire homes, subdivisions, rooms and even couches in their homes. for Ukrainian refugees to stay.
Mr Schiffmann said: “As of Friday morning, there were 5,000 active listings on the site – not including an estimated 300 landlords that had been taken down after their spaces were filled.
“For example, there were dozens of places in Hungary last night but by this morning there were almost none,” he said.
Indo Daily: Under siege – How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly into the spotlight
Many of the listings are located in European countries close to Ukraine, but there are also offers from as far away as Israel, Canada and the US – as some refugees try to reach countries with which they are concerned. tight system.
“People are providing everything from a couch in their apartment for one person to an entire farmhouse that can fit five families,” he said.
“If you have an extra couch in your house in a small village in Hungary, you can go to the website and post the list and then the refugees can contact you.”
A quick website search on Friday morning turned up pertinent information about a long-running listing offering a three-bedroom house in downtown Ottawa for a family with children and a room for two. people in Poland.
For those who don’t have the space to accommodate refugees fleeing, Mr. Schiffmann said there are other offers flooding in, such as help with transportation or offers to adopt a refugee’s pet. problem.
A listing from a host in Kraków, Poland, online Friday said it was willing to pay an Airbnb for a refugee.
Meanwhile, a homeowner in Prague is providing temporary foster care for up to two cats including vet bills and pet food costs.
“It’s a list of refugees,” said Mr. Schiffmann.
“What’s remarkable about the site is that it puts power back in the hands of refugees – they can view lists and choose from them instead of waiting for a nonprofit or a government to find them.
“They were feeling helpless – now they can use their own initiative and go to the website and find the listings for themselves.”
Since launching, Mr. Schiffmann said he has heard from both refugees and hosts who have connected through the website.
One poignant message he shared was: “Again, thank you for making that site, if that’s not your site. He is losing hope of returning alive.”
“A lot of people don’t want to leave Ukraine if they don’t know that they can get stable housing across the border,” he said.
“People fear for their lives but they are also afraid of what will happen if they don’t have any plans.”
The teenager said he got the idea a few days after the war when he started thinking about how he could help Ukrainians from where he lives in the US.
He said he attended a protest against the Russian attack with a friend in San Diego and felt like it “didn’t really help”.
“I joined a friend in a solidarity rally with Ukraine in Balboa Park, where people were holding up placards that read ‘Stop Putin’ and the Ukrainian flag,” he said.
“And I think that’s great for a few hundred people in San Diego but I think ‘it doesn’t really do anything.
“It’s just a little bit of programming that actually looks great on Instagram but doesn’t really help the Ukrainian people.”
The teenager decided that there had to be something more practical he could do to help.
That night – February 28 – he began to research and found that there was a challenge that could be easily solved.
He sent a tweet to his 54,000 followers: “A great idea is to set up a website to connect Ukrainian refugees with hosts in neighboring countries.”
He went to bed and found his tweets gaining more traction.
“I thought ‘you’re okay, I’m the perfect person to do it’. And so I jumped out of bed and started,” he said.
He contacted his friend and Harvard computer science student Marco Burstein, and they spent the next three days working around the clock until the site was up and running.
“We didn’t sleep for three days, we just got up as quickly as possible,” he said.
The 19-year-old has had a massive public following after he made headlines for launching a website during the pandemic that tracks cases of Covid-19.
So he sought the help of this online community for expertise in cybersecurity and language translation.
“Anything I needed help with, like a translation into Romanian, I would tweet and within moments people were reaching out to help,” he said.
The result is a user-friendly website created entirely by volunteers and currently accessible in 12 different languages including Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.
Those who have the space to welcome refugees into their homes can simply post the listing on the website.
A refugee then uses a simple search function to search for shelter in a specific area, and the website shows them all the nearby places and what the host is offering.
The refugee can then contact the host directly through the contact details listed.
Amid concerns about the safety of Ukrainian refugees as well as host countries taking a stand against Russian aggression, it is important to make the site as secure as possible.
Neither the host nor the refugee share their exact location on the site, and the refugees don’t even need to create an account.
Email addresses are not shared on the site, Schiffmann explained, because people often use their first and last names to make them easier to identify.
The student said he was surprised that Western governments had not set up something like his website for the millions of people fleeing Ukraine.
“Many governments are trying to do what they can but – as with the Covid website – I don’t see how a 19-year-old with no redesign experience could be quicker and create a website The web is more accessible than most government he says.
“And not just governments but also NGOs and nonprofits.”
Mr Schiffmann said the site is also currently being used by humanitarian aid groups on the ground with Ukrainian refugees and he is now working closely with several groups around improving the site further. .
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/ukraine-take-shelter-is-giving-hundreds-of-homes-to-refugees-it-was-built-by-a-19-year-old-student-41457057.html ‘Ukraine Shelter’ is giving away hundreds of houses to refugees – it was built by a 19-year-old student