On 3 March, First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska and First Lady of Latvia Andra Levite visited Ukrainian Catholic University.
Olena Zelenska and Andra Levite met the rector of the university. Fr. Bohdan Prach, and the vice-rectors. They also spoke with students and visited the Collegium and Emmaus House, a small community for people with developmental disabilities.
In May 2022, Olena Zelenska began a Ukraine-wide program for mental health. At UCU, the First Lady also met with Oleh Romanchuk, Director of UCU’s Institute of Mental Health, and talked about cooperation with the national program.
„Thank you for your educational activities. We need not simply an expert view but also a visionary approach to the development of mental health. It’s important to look strategically at how we will progress in the next 15 to 20 years,“ emphasized Ukraine’s First Lady. She also thanked UCU’s experts for their involvement in the national program for mental health and psychosocial support.
Оleh Romanchuk added: „Education is a powerful weapon in the fight with the Russian aggressor. Ukraine’s government, together with many civic organizations, at the initiative of the First Lady of Ukraine has organized a large-scale national program for mental health care. We’re part of this program, and we’re in the working group. Ukrainian Catholic University has an important function – to expand the scope of our positive experience. We can also demonstrate how a university can be a fortress of stability.“
The delegation then had a tour of the campus of Ukrainian Catholic University. The guests spoke with students who live in the Collegium and take part in the formational program. “The formational program is a unique offering for our students, who have the opportunity to develop their spirituality, personal qualities, and social skills through participation in the life of the community,” stated Fr. Yuriy Kozlovskyi, master of the Collegium. “The main ‘vocation’ of the formational program is to teach students to serve and recognize the dignity of those they serve. We are grateful to everyone who is now serving us in the trenches and affirming our dignity.”
The First Ladies of Ukraine and Latvia also visited Emmaus House, which is located at the Collegium of Ukrainian Catholic University. The goal of Emmaus House is socialization and integration into society for people with developmental disabilities. “Friends” is what those at UCU call the residents of Emmaus. They live together with students and staff of the university. The First Ladies had a short tea break with the friends at Emmaus House.
Natalia Petsyuk, who is now acting head of Emmaus, told the guests about the two “m”s on which the idea of Ukrainian Catholic University has been formed: martyrs and the marginalized. “The Church is held up by the martyrs, who, despite tortures, did not lose their faith and have passed it on to us. And marginalized persons teach us love and openness. They don’t have barriers. They are teachers about relationships for each of us.
“Inclusion and a lack of barriers should help people with disabilities integrate into society. For us, communication, relations, and accepting various people are important. Our friends are sincere and open. They are not deceitful.”
Аndra Levite said that she was moved by such an experience of life together and emphasized that it is also important to continue this experience in Latvia.
UCU Senior Vice-Rector Тaras Dobko noted that the model of mutual relations between students and people with developmental disabilities which operates at UCU is being adopted by other universities on an international level: “We’re closely working together in this area with the University of Notre Dame in the USA.”
At the end of the meeting, UCU Rector Fr. Bohdan Prach thanked Olena Zelenska and Andra Levite for the visit and emphasized the importance of continuing cooperation: „Today our day began with air raid sirens, but inside us there is no worry. We are not afraid, because we are together. Though it is not large, Ukrainian Catholic University has great influence, and we want to expand the scope of this influence.“