Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Ivan Kushchenko. I’m from Ukraine and I recently turned 31. I love sports.
How long have you been a peacekeeper and what are your responsibilities?
I have been with the United Nations Mission in South Soudan (UNMISS) since 2017 when I was first deployed to Bentiu in the Unity region. The duty station houses a protection of civilians site and provides safety to more than 105,000 internally displaced people. My work there was monitoring human rights violations, patrolling to prevent crimes, conducting routine searches within the site for weapons, alcohol and drugs, as well as intervening in disputes between people staying there.
Currently I am in Torit, in the Eastern Equatoria region where I am working with the South Sudan National Police and the Ministry of Local Government and Law Enforcement, to develop and tailor trainings to the needs of the national police so that their services can be at par with international standards. Additionally, the UN Police (UNPOL) team and I provide psychosocial support to vulnerable groups like women and children.
Why did you choose this career? How did you become a UN peacekeeper?
I attended the National Academy of the National Guard of Ukraine, where I learnt English and French as part of my training. I have always been curious about other cultures. I wanted to see the world and meet new people. During my time at the academy, my platoon commander, who had recently returned from a peacekeeping mission, shared very positive experiences about working for the UN, and encouraged us to serve with the United Nations. When I graduated from the military academy, I sat for and passed the UN Selection Assistance and Assessment Team/ Assessment for Mission Service exams and was then deployed to South Sudan.
Describe what your typical day is like?
Our team of UN Police has monthly meetings with the local police and authorities where we discuss how we can best assist them within the limits of our mandate. Based on what we agree on, my daily activities include developing trainings to suit their needs, selecting where to organise workshops, when and who will conduct the activities. However, difficulties to reach most rural areas may cause logistical constraints, which means that we must do a lot of painstaking planning well ahead of time.
What are the highlights of your service at the present peacekeeping mission?
I find my work quite fulfilling. For instance, when I first arrived in Torit, there was only one central police station where case reports were recorded in exercise books. Now, we have three more police posts and a standardised form is used for case reports.
What do you like most about the country you are based?
Firstly, I am struck by the national pride expressed by citizens here, despite this being the youngest country in the world, facing a myriad of challenges. It tells me that there is hope for change, although they will need support to make that happen.
Secondly, South Sudan has a lot of resources and the weather here is not so bad, with several harvest seasons per year. It is possible for the country to become self-sufficient in agriculture.
Thirdly, I am awed by the patriotism displayed by the police officers we train. It is amazing how they attend all our workshops to learn new skills and to improve their efficiency on the job. I think you have to really love your country to perform such a feat.
What part of your job do you find most challenging and why?
Like everywhere else, sometimes people have difficulty accepting best practices or change that are not in tandem with their way of doing things. Also, the erratic telephone and internet service here sometimes make communication with my family in Ukraine a bit difficult.
What does your family and friends back home think about your decision to leave your country and work for the UN peacekeeping mission?
It has not been an easy decision for me and my family. We are constantly counting the days to our next meeting, but they continue to support my choice because they know how passionate I am about peacekeeping.
What do you do when you have some spare time?
I am quite active. I am part of the volleyball and football teams here, and I often jog. I take full advantage of the gym as well, maybe because it is so close to my room and is also well-equipped.
What would you say to young people considering a career in peacekeeping?
Working for the UN is an enriching experience; it is not possible to compare it to anywhere else. You meet people from all over the world with beautiful cultures, and you build on your expertise. It is a sharp contrast to working only in one’s home country. In my opinion, a wealth of experience in life is the most important thing, so I encourage young people to try and serve with the UN.