Meet the Harvard Teens Matching Ukrainian Refugees With People Who Have Offered Shelter

Two teens from Harvard have created a website to match Ukrainian refugees with hosts who can help offer temporary housing, helping thousands fleeing violence to find a safe landing.

Avi Showing off website
Photo: Avi Schiffmann

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, stories of international organizations stepping up to help evacuate Ukrainians flood news cycles. Social media has countless donation buttons aiming to send cash overseas to help get people out of the violence. And who among us hasn't wondered what small act we can do to help despite living so far away? According to a recent count published by the BBC, an estimated 3 million refugees have crossed borders into neighboring countries. But where are they supposed to go? And who is going to help them?

That's what 19-year-old, Hardvard student Avi Schiffmann and his friend and classmate Marco Burstein wanted to know, so they did something extraordinary; they created a simple way to connect refugees with places to stay.

Avi and Marco at Harvard
Avi Schiffmann

"On February 28, I attended a protest in solidarity with the War in Ukraine, however, I felt that I could do more to help. When I got home later that night, I researched what organizations were involved in helping Ukrainian citizens get to sanctuary. Very fast I realized that there was a severe lack of communication between organizations and individuals seeking help. As always, government websites were far too complex to navigate, especially in a stressful and timely manner," Schiffmann said in a statement shared with Parents.

"The next morning, my friend from college, Marco, joined up with me, and we discussed the idea and began coding the website. We found existing efforts to connect refugees to hosts were extremely inefficient, unscalable, and hard to quickly sort through. We aimed to create an intuitive, secure, safe, and useful site. With no time to spare, we spent all day and all night designing and programming."

Marco programming
Avi Schiffmann

In the span of three days, the two brilliant students created a website called that matches refugees with people from neighboring countries who want to help shelter those crossing the border. The ambitious project, which they described as a simplified version of Airbnb, launched on March 2, 2022.

The website is remarkably simple but has an incredible impact; in the first week that the website went live, the site matched more 4,000 Ukrainians with hosts around the world.

As Schiffmann noted to the Washington Post, "If someone has a couch available, they can support a refugee. And if somebody has an entire house, they can put it on the site and support a whole family."

Anyone who wants to host a refugee can head over to the public bulletin and create a listing. These public listings include the host's city location, how many guests can be accepted, information about pets, badges that alert guests if there is first aid, elderly assistance, spoken languages, and specific skills. Hosts can publish, pause, and remove their listings, and anyone can report a listing that they believe to be dangerous or inappropriate.

"We hope that acts as a public bulletin refugees can access from wherever they want. We designed our user interface and experience to be intuitive and simple enough to be used quickly in stressful situations," Schiffmann said in a statement shared with Parents.

"Looking into the future, we hope to compile more resources that would aid refugees, such as which countries are currently accepting refugees and what their processes look like."

Schiffmann isn't new to lending a helping hand during a global crisis. As a high school student in Washington state in 2020, Schiffmann teamed up with his friend Daniel Conlon to create a COVID-19 data tracker called Using his coding skills, Schiffmann realized that he could get accurate, real-time data into the public sphere that could help anyone, anywhere, understand how COVID-19 was spreading in an unbiased and user-friendly way.

Currently, the crisis in Ukraine appears to be deteriorating by the day. According to NPR, an estimated 600 Ukrainians have died, and an unknown number have been injured in attacks. According to the UN, three million Ukrainians have fled the violence, and an estimated 2 million people have been internally displaced. In one particularly heartbreaking statistic, UN leadership noted that 55 children have fled the country every minute since this war began, which is the equivalent of 70,000 children in the past 20 days.

If you're looking for helpers as the stories of the invasion of Ukraine unfold, don't forget to see what young people are up to because they might just surprise you. Kudos to Avi and Marco for putting their skills and compassion to work to help people on the other side of the world.

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