First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska met with UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Regina De Dominicis.
She also serves as UNICEF Representative to the United Nations in Geneva and Special Coordinator for Refugees and Migrants in Europe. Over her 25-year career, Regina De Dominicis has held a number of senior positions at UNICEF.
"Thank you for your visit to Ukraine. Each such visit is of great importance for Ukrainians and is a manifestation of support and solidarity," the President's wife said.
The parties discussed strategic areas of cooperation between UNICEF and Ukraine.
"In 2020, we launched one of the most important projects for us - the school nutrition reform. We wanted to teach kids to consciously choose healthy food, to form what adults call healthy eating habits, to reach their parents through children, and ultimately to encourage Ukrainians to change their attitude towards food. We dreamed of a healthy nation," said Olena Zelenska.
From the very first days of working on this large-scale project, UNICEF has become a reliable partner of the reform. UNICEF experts were involved in the development of a roadmap for implementing changes - the School Nutrition Reform Strategy until 2027. Today, it is being approved by the government.
The First Lady emphasized that the partnership continued even during the Russian invasion, which forced the restart of the reform.
"This year, millions of children will go to schools and kindergartens in Ukraine. More than 1.5 million of them are primary school pupils and children in privileged categories. Each and every one of them has the right to quality and healthy food. Each and every one of them has the right to a healthy future," Olena Zelenska is convinced.
She emphasized the great need for UNICEF assistance. The area that primarily requires financial support is the development of school catering infrastructure, including the construction of facilities such as kitchen factories, as well as the modernization or restoration of basic and hub kitchens in educational institutions.
"Millions of children need the same access to quality and healthy food. Even during the war. Especially during the war," the President's wife emphasized.
The First Lady noted the importance of cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund and in the framework of the All-Ukrainian Mental Health Program, which is being implemented in Ukraine on her initiative.
"UNICEF implements a comprehensive mental health policy and includes this component in all its projects. This resonates with the All-Ukrainian Mental Health Program, which was created and implemented on my initiative. The program is based on the comprehensiveness of mental health support services and their integration into all points of contact with the system throughout a person's life," she said.
At the same time, Olena Zelenska noted the great importance of "Spilno" multifunctional centers that UNICEF is creating across the country. For the first time, all services and projects - from psychological assistance to online learning and coworking for children and adults - are gathered on one site.
The First Lady also discussed with Regina De Dominicis cooperation with UNICEF in supporting the family forms of upbringing. Recently, the Coordination Center for the Development of Family Upbringing and Child Care was presented in Ukraine, which will contribute to the deinstitutionalization reform.
Olena Zelenska emphasized the importance of cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund in creating integrated social services in each community to improve the childcare system and prevent children from being removed from their biological families.
"Our cooperation continues. We want little Ukrainians to have everything that is stated in the famous UNICEF motto, which Ukraine fully shares: "Hope, opportunity, dignity - for every child," the First Lady summarized.
For her part, Regina De Dominicis thanked Olena Zelenska for advocating and defending the interests of children in the national and international arena and expressed hope that these interests would be at the center of Ukraine's reconstruction programs.