“Zelensky’s ambition is to eliminate children’s facilities while he is President.”

Delegates at the Ukraine Recovery Conference side event at the FCDO

Director of Programmes, Pete Garratt and Ukraine Country Director Halya Postoliuk at the Ukraine Recovery Conference Side Event in June 2023

We reflect upon the week of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, why there’s hope for Ukraine’s care reform process, and how domestic political will and international attention has galvanised into commitment to all Ukrainian children growing up in safe, loving families.

The Ukraine Recovery Conference 2023 was co-hosted in London by the Governments of Ukraine and the United Kingdom. Focusing on rebuilding the war-torn country both physically and socially, the conference and associated events were an opportunity for the Government of Ukraine to outline its reconstruction plans.  These included an ambitious care reform agenda, and an appeal to international donors to support this process. 

We’ve been working in the run-up to the conference, in Ukraine and internationally, to ensure the international attention focused on Ukraine turns into tangible support for an inclusive, sustainable care reform process.  In late June, alongside 16 organisations including Save the Children, Lumos, Disability Rights International (DRI) and Human Rights Watch, we published joint recommendations on the reform of Ukraine’s child protection and care system

Mykolayivka Special Boarding School of General Education, Ukraine, 2016 Photo credit: Aleksandr Glyadyelov.

Securing political will and commitment to care reform  

One essential element of making change happen is ensuring the political will to change is unmistakeably there. 

The day before the conference, Chatham House hosted a dedicated ‘Road to URC 2023’ event, for civil society to discuss its vital role in Ukraine’s recovery. At the event, Yulia Sokolovska, Deputy Head of the President’s Office of Ukraine, highlighted the level of political support for the care reform agenda by saying “the President’s (Zelensky’s) ambition is to eliminate children’s facilities while he is President.”1

At the conference itself, one session on ‘Human Capital’ had significant focus on care reform. Minister for Social Policy, Oksana Zholnovych, and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director for Partnerships, Karin Hulshof, highlighted the importance of their Better Care agenda, while Darya Kasyanova, Chair of the Ukrainian Child Rights Network, outlined why the need for care reform is so urgent.  UK Minister for Development, Andrew Mitchell, referenced the UK’s commitment to supporting Ukraine’s care reform agenda “working to ensure that each Ukrainian child, including children with disabilities, has the opportunity to live in a nurturing family.”2 

To secure such consistent commitment to reform on a public stage was a huge step forward.  But there was more to come.  

"We must make sure every child in Ukraine has the opportunity to be raised in a family."

– Minister Oksana Zholnovych at the Ukraine Recovery Conference side event

International support for a Ukrainian vision of the future of child protection 

After the conference, alongside UNICEF, Lumos and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Government of Ukraine, we hosted a side event dedicated specifically to the care reform agenda.  Here, Minister Zholnovych presented Ukraine’s ambitious Better Care agenda, and called for all those in the room to join Ukraine and publicly commit to supporting the reform process.

The call was answered by Denise Brown, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, who spoke of the UN’s commitment to supporting the Government of Ukraine’s journey towards care reform and Danae Dholakia, UK Special Envoy for the Ukraine Recovery Conference, who reiterated the UK’s ground-breaking 2018 commitment to support global care reform efforts

Ukraine’s accession to the European Union 

The role of the European Union (EU) in Ukraine’s reform process is key, particularly in the context of Ukraine’s accession journey. The Vice President of the European Commission, Dubravka Šuica, made clear that the EU is ready to rise to this challenge.

“The quality and success of the deinstitutionalisation…will be an important benchmark for measuring Ukraine’s preparedness for accession.”3 

– Dubravka Šuica, Vice President of the European Commission

Building back better – together 

The clear, public alignment between speakers that ‘the time for reform is now’ is a source of genuine hope that we can make real progress together. In a moving speech, Baroness Helena Kennedy made parallels with the UK’s recovery from World War II, building a stronger social protection system in the aftermath of destruction. 

Tellingly, none shied away from the scale of the challenge; all were clear that the Government of Ukraine is not alone in this process.  UNICEF is supporting the Government to develop its Better Care agenda. Philippe Cori, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, gave a powerful speech highlighting what will be needed to make this reform a success, including support for the social workforce and concrete funding commitments.  

Indeed, it is only active involvement from Ukrainian civil society experts can ensure that this reform process is sustainable and inclusive. Halyna Kurylo, of DRI, emphasised the importance of the participation of children and adults with disabilities in the process. Lumos’s Yaroslav Laguta made the key point that the child, and their destiny, must be at the centre of reform. Kasyanova willed all involved to consider more than recovery, and focus instead on development – building a better system than before. 

With private sector support also crucial for Ukraine’s recovery, our own CEO Mark Waddington outlined the importance of private sector and civil society collaboration, to ensure resources are allocated towards sustainable, inclusive reform. 

This moment was a product of amazing co-operation. Governments, multilateral institutions and civil society came together as partners to present a clear, aligned position on Ukraine’s care reform. This demonstrates we can move closer to a future where no child in Ukraine grows up missing the love and security of a family. 


1 – Chatham House – Shaping the New Ukraine – Human capital: healing, reintegration, empowering 1:21:10 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Qek2xP1iEc&list=PLy9ppGFZeRr5N6q5xqrkKYcLtaciG_YXy&index=3
2 – Ukraine Recovery Conference 2023, Investment in Ukraine’s Human Capital Recovery, 55:47 https://www.urc-international.com/ukraine-recovery-conference-urc-2023
3 – https://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/united-kingdom/eu%E2%80%99s-support-ukraine%E2%80%99s-comprehensive-child-care-and-child-rights-reform_en