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Harvard Freshmen Create Website To Help Ukrainian Refugees Find Shelter

BOSTON (CBS) - Armed with their computer keyboards, two Harvard freshmen have figured out how to offer hope in a place where hope feels impossible.

"If I do it right, then it will have an effect for thousands of years and for the rest of humanity really," said Avi Schiffmann, who calls himself an internet activist. He won an award from Dr. Anthony Fauci for his coronavirus tracking website two years ago.

The 19-year-old is now taking a semester off. He spoke with WBZ from his Seattle home, where he learned about the process Ukrainian refugees go through to find places to stay. "You'd fill out these forms and have to wait to be manually matched," he said.

He called the process "clunky." "We really wanted to put the power back into the hands of the refugees," he said.

He turned to his Harvard buddy, coding whiz-kid Marco Burstein. "We basically didn't sleep or anything like that to get the site done," said Burstein. They plugged away, using their phones, FaceTime, and texts to communicate from opposite coasts. "I had to leave briefly to take a midterm, but other than that, we were just working straight through," said Burstein.

The result is the website Ukraine Take Shelter. It's translated in more than a dozen languages, and by Friday March 11, more than 4,000 would-be host families had already listed their homes for refugees to search. "And then they can filter and add, do they allow pets or not, do they have childcare support disability assistance, what languages I want my host to speak," explained Schiffmann.

"We've heard from refugees who have contacted hosts who have gotten to safety. It's just so mind blowing to see what's going on," said Burstein. "It's incredible. It's a really, really special feeling."

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