Peacekeeper Profile: Katarina Zahorska
Platoon Sergeant Katarina Zahorska from Slovakia is UNFICYP’s first female photographer since the Mission’s inception in 1964. Here Katarina, a former school teacher, single mother and talented pianist, takes a minute to stand in front of the lens to speak about her love for the military and why, she believes, UN peacekeeping works.
Q: Tell us a bit about your work with UNFICYP.
UNFICYP is my first deployment with UN peacekeeping and, as the Mission’s only photographer, I document the day-to-day efforts made by our military, police and civilian peacekeepers to achieve the goals set out in the mandate. It is a challenging role since I have to keep in mind the complex political nuances of the Cyprus problem while being an authentic storyteller. Additionally, I had no previous experience in photography, so I basically had to acquire an entirely new skillset while moving to a new country and adjusting to different operational requirements. However, I’m always up for a challenge and I have found my deployment with the UN to be exceptionally rewarding.
Q: What, do you feel, are some of your biggest achievements in your career with UN peacekeeping?
My experience with UNFICYP is, in my opinion, a pinnacle in my career. I have previously also served with international organisations such as NATO. I consider the opportunity to represent my country at the UN a massive honor. My biggest achievement so far has been to integrate seamlessly with the civilian and police peacekeepers in the Mission and make them comfortable enough to share their stories with me. Documenting UNFICYP’s ongoing commitment to supporting a return to normal conditions in Cyprus has been an incredible journey. Also being the first woman photographer in the Mission is something I’m very proud of.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about the challenges faced and sacrifices made by peacekeepers across the globe?
I don’t come from a military family, but I was always fascinated by the life of soldiers. Initially, it seemed an unachievable dream because in my hometown Prešov the presence of female military personnel was very limited. I, therefore, started working as a teacher. Finally, in 2003, I joined the Slovak Armed Forces; I am a Non-Commissioned officer (NCO) and currently, am a Platoon Sergeant, a position that was traditionally filled only by men because it is extremely demanding. In my opinion, the challenges faced by women in the military are numerous. Similarly, the challenges faced by every peacekeeper deployed are numerous. As peacekeepers we consistently take on extended periods of separation from family, friends and loved ones. We consistently need to find a balance in working with people from diverse, multicultural backgrounds to ensure that we keep the best interests of the UN in mind all the time. These are not easy things to straddle. Peacekeeping requires great fortitude and commitment.
Q: Would you encourage more people to join peace operations worldwide? If yes, why?
Yes, I would. I believe UN peacekeeping is the one of the most effective tools to respond to current challenges of global peace and security. Every day, women and men serving in far flung locations under the UN flag protect millions of civilians at risk and work to bring about sustainable peace. For me personally, being a Blue Beret supersedes any individual soldiering loyalty. I would like to encourage more women to join peacekeeping – female peacekeepers have a huge role to play when it comes to awareness-raising about the importance of peace and become role models for the communities they serve.