On February 24, 2022, the world woke up to news of a large-scale military invasion of Ukraine, which has caused devastating losses throughout the country. According to the UN Refugee Agency data portal, refugee arrivals from Ukraine between February 24 and March 3 reached 1,209,976 – with most refugees seeking shelter in neighboring Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania.
As more people are making their way to neighboring borders (primarily women, children, and foreign nationals, as Ukrainian male citizens ages 18 to 60 are barred from leaving the country), the conflict is affecting millions of lives, transcending the country’s frontier.
“Across our network – in Europe, the United States, and Canada – we have agents, market center leadership, and regional leadership that are either from Ukraine, or have relatives still in Ukraine,” says KW Worldwide president Bill Soteroff. “This humanitarian crisis touches us all. And, as it continues, our agents are still trying to do their job, because they still need to feed their families while supporting those affected.”
In the face of devastation and heartbreak, the people of Ukraine have shown great bravery and strength, and the world has come together in solidarity for the lives greatly affected by this crisis. Among the Keller Williams family, many have sprung into action, contributing time and resources to help those affected. “Our KW regions acted quickly by partnering with relief agencies, opening up their market centers to refugees, and contributing goods,” Soteroff says.
Below, four European regions share their experience reacting to the crisis.
Poland, which shares a 300+ mile border with Ukraine, has welcomed nearly 650,000 refugees as of March 3, 2022. According to a member of the KW Poland team, the Polish population has been heavily involved in aiding refugees, so they are able to find shelter in a timely manner. “We collected information on initiatives supported by local associations of Realtors, portals, and foundations,” the team representative says. “We established the scope of support that we are able to provide locally and regionally. Our associates approached our request with great commitment, obtaining real estate available for Ukrainians from their spheres of influence, supporting the transport of refugees, and securing donations.”
In addition to shelter, transportation, and essential items, the team committed to donating a part of the company’s currency to the Polish Humanitarian Action, which provides aid to refugees. And, KW Poland will be donating 10% of royalties from the month of March for the same purpose.
“Our agents support refugees from Ukraine by making financial donations, coordinating the search and rental of flats, and providing legal support in cooperation with a notary’s office. Some associates use their own cars to transport Ukrainians from the border to their cities, or provide their own homes. We are proud and grateful that we can work with such supportive and committed people.”
As fighting intensified in the cities of Kharkiv and Kyiv, thousands of refugees made their way to the northern border of Romania. A KW Romania representative shares, “Women and children crossed the border and had to be separated from their husbands or fathers. I was overwhelmed by the warmth with which they were received by the Romanians offering them accommodation, meals, and encouragement. Thus, I did not stand aside and initiated a call to colleagues in KW.”
The team focused on partnering with nongovernmental organizations to identify free accommodations for refugees. They mobilized by posting ads on social media about their initiative. As the ads became more visible, citizens outside of the real estate space joined in and committed to hosting. “One of the agents from KW Brasov offered to provide seven rooms in her own hostel to accommodate refugees in case of need. Also, the Romanian Association of Realtors started a fundraising and humanitarian action,” the representative shares.
Right now, the team is in discussion with Habitat for Humanity Romania to identify opportunities for medium-term collaboration. “They have been distributing mobile heating systems for refugees, and I have redirected donor initiatives to Habitat for Humanity,” the representative shares. As a number of refugees are making their way to airports to continue their journey to relatives stationed in other countries, the team continues focusing on transport and accommodations in cities with airports, such as Bucharest.
KW Czech Republic
In the Czech Republic, the region’s leaders and agents are stepping in with financial donations and collecting humanitarian help to be delivered to the Ukraine-Poland border. “There is a tremendous wave of solidarity with Ukraine in Czech Republic,” a KW Czech Republic representative says. “There are many collection points. People offer apartments and rooms. Trains and buses for refugees are free. People drive their cars to the border to pick up women and children they do not even know. They send trucks from their companies to transport things to the borders. Lawyers provide free advice. People stand at collection points to receive and distribute medicine, water, food, and clothes.”
Currently, the greatest need for refugees entering the Czech Republic is temporary accommodation and necessities. KW Czech Republic is part of a platform which shares information about available housing, and, in addition, has been working hard on collecting items such as sleeping bags and warm blankets, pillows, thermodecs, mats, hygiene products, flashlights, raincoats, and tents. “The women and children usually wait about 60 hours to cross the border from Ukraine to Poland or Slovakia,” the rep says. “They also have to walk long distances under bad weather conditions, since they have to abandon their cars in Ukraine. They usually come on foot with one suitcase with mere necessities.”
Although more geographically distant from Ukraine, the KW Portugal team is deeply involved with helping refugees. Through a Ukrainian agent, the team is able to support the initiatives of a Ukrainian association, which has freighted planes and land transport from Portugal into Ukraine. On Monday, they sent 600 kg (nearly 1,323 lbs) of medication, and a truck filled with clothes and general items. Efforts are underway for more collections of canned foods, medicine, personal safety items, and clothes.
“Portugal is the most distant country from Ukraine in Europe, and we expect to have refugees due to their connections to the Ukrainian community in Portugal and through some kind of quota to be established with the European community,” shares a KW Portugal representative. “There is a large movement in the real estate sector in Portugal that is preparing for that moment, identifying vacant homes and associations that could accommodate the refugees.”
How You Can Help
Here are four organizations doing work on the ground in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
The UN Refugee Agency – “UNHCR has stepped up operations and capacity in Ukraine and neighboring countries. We remain firmly committed to support all affected populations in Ukraine and countries in the region.”
International Committee of the Red Cross – “We are a sign of hope to those whose lives have been shattered by war.”
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee – “Help UUSC deliver aid with dignity and assist grassroots communities who are left out of traditional relief aid following crises. Your generous gift is a lifeline of support for people around the world rebuilding their lives after recovering from disasters.”
Americares – “Americares has an emergency response team on the way to Poland to support health services for families affected by the escalating humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The team, which is headed to Krakow, has expertise in coordinating large-scale shipments of medicine and relief supplies and mobilizing emergency medical teams in crisis situations.”
Are you involved in any organizations or initiatives currently helping Ukraine and its citizens? Let us know.