Words by Smiley Team
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced with over 5 million leaving the country all together.
“Reaching 5 million refugees is a grim milestone of the toll Putin’s aggression has taken on civilians,” Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said on Twitter. “With each day that passes, people who escape are even more vulnerable, having lived through months of conflict with no end in sight.”
Two Harvard freshman have made a point to help these refugees in a way that they know how: by starting a website. The site, called UkraineTakeShelter.com, was made over three days in March by Marco Burstein and Avi Schiffman.
Since starting the site, over 18,000 people have signed up as hosts to aid refugees affected by the crisis. At its peak, the two have seen as many as 800,000 users on the site.
“We’ve heard all sorts of amazing stories of hosts and refugees getting connected all over the world,” Burstein said in an interview on the Harvard campus. “We have hosts in almost any country you can imagine from Hungary and Romania and Poland to Canada to Australia. And we’ve been really blown away by the response.”
The site itself was built with a few safeguards, including precautions against human trafficking, and even language options where hosts can highlight what languages they speak. But Burstein and Schiffman wanted to make the site as accessible and easy to use as possible for those in the most immediate danger.
“We know that this is potentially a dangerous situation, so we have a lot of steps in place to ensure the protection of our refugees,” Burstein told WBUR. “We have a detailed guide that we give to all refugees to help them verify the host that they’re talking to — make sure that the person that they may be speaking with on the phone is the same one that they’re meeting up with in person.”
Currently, Burstein and Schiffman have fronted all the costs of the site, including translation and website hosting but are looking to register a non-profit so they can apply for grants.
“Our main goal is to get this into the hands of and working with — and we currently are working with — those larger organizations that are doing a lot of the work on the ground,” Burstein told The Harvard Crimson.
GET INVOLVED: You can visit the website and find out more information on how to become a host.
DONATE: If you're looking to donate to refugee organizations throughout America, donate to the International Rescue Committee.