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Teen launches website to help Ukrainian refugees find shelter around the world

Refugees Ukraine
Posted at 11:21 AM, Mar 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-07 11:21:11-05

A 19-year-old teen from Washington state has launched a new website that aims to keep Ukrainian refugees safe from invading Russians.

According to KING-TV in Seattle, Avi Schiffman is currently living in California, taking a gap year from his studies at Harvard to work on some start-up projects. But when Russia invaded Ukraine late last month, Schiffman and his Harvard classmate, Marco Burstein, decided to help.

The two launched Ukraine Take Shelter earlier this month. The website matches Ukrainians fleeing their country with Good Samaritans who offer to house those refugees.

Schiffman initially tweeted the idea for his website on Feb. 27. He told Geek Wire that he and Burstein raced to launch the website.

"We literally worked for three days straight," Schiffmann told Geek Wire. "There was nothing else I was doing except for working on the website."

People seeking shelter need only to enter the nearest city into the website to call up a list of people willing to host refugees.

Those interested in hosting refugees simply need to list the city they live in, how many people they can host, a description and contact information. Hosts can also list other amenities like language abilities, first aid skills, legal expertise and whether their home is pet-friendly.

Schiffman and Burstein hope to develop a network of hosts around the globe, from Poland to the U.S.

"We hope that UkraineTakeShelter.com acts as a public bulletin refugees can access from wherever they want," Schiffman and Burnstein wrote in a statement. "We designed our user interface and experience to be intuitive and simple enough to be used quickly in stressful situations."

Schiffman is no stranger to using technology to respond to a worldwide crisis. When COVID-19 began spreading around the world in 2020, the then-17-year-old created nCoV2019.liveone of the first websites launched in the hopes of tracking the spread of the virus. The website garnered millions of views in the span of a few weeks, and Schiffman said he received hundreds of messages from people around the world.

"It's really direct practical tools that are able to help people," Schiffmann told KING. "It's never been easier to go online, go on YouTube and just search like, 'How do I code websites?' and then get in any language you want, hundreds and hundreds of videos that just show you how to do every possible thing you could imagine."