Among the disasters caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is Europe’s most severe refugee crisis in decades. More than two million people have fled Ukraine since the military attack began two weeks ago, according to UN estimates, with many flooding neighboring countries such as Moldova, Poland and Romania.
Keller Williams Worldwide was in a position to help, so it did.
The international reach of the Austin company’s franchise network is extensive. Though it does not operate in Russia or Ukraine, its presence elsewhere in Europe enabled quick action once the need to house refugees became apparent.
“Virtually from the first day of the invasion,” Keller Williams franchises in countries including the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania have been tracking down owners of empty apartments who might be willing to allow refugees to stay there at no charge, said Bill Soteroff, the Austin-based president of Keller Williams Worldwide, in an interview Thursday.
“Over the past few years and even the last few months, we’d watched the escalation between Russia and Ukraine,” said Soteroff. “But we were still surprised at the level of the escalation in the last month.”
Soteroff declined to share specifics “out of caution” for the safety of the refugees and the people assisting them, but said Keller Williams’ network had helped “hundreds if not thousands” of refugees and that it “will not be a short-term” effort.
Soteroff said the effort was “spontaneous” and informal.
“There was no order given — this was all volunteers acting independently to move forward and take care of people,” he said.
Soteroff said the decision to avoid operating in Russia or Ukraine was made “years ago,” and that a given country’s political, judicial, economic and financial systems determine whether Keller Williams chooses to do business there. In the case of former Soviet nations, he said, it depends on whether they are “Eastern-looking or Western-looking.” Membership in NATO and the European Economic Community are also factors.
The company does operate in 52 nations worldwide. Its most recent expansion, announced Thursday, marked its entry into Guyana. Keller Williams reported total sales volume of $12.1 billion outside the U.S. and Canada last year, an 88.7 percent increase compared to 2020.