Black Journalist Shares Experiences of Working in Ukraine During Russia’s Invasion


By Kennedy Edgerton


Photo credit: Terrell Star via University of Illinois


Terrell Starr, journalist, and host of the Black Diplomats Podcast, visited Morehouse College to share his insight and experience on the Ukraine conflict and European colonialism.


Starr was the first Black man to earn a Master’s degree in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign—in addition to another Master’s in journalism. Starr’s lecture covered his upbringing, his HBCU experience, and his experience as a reporter in Kyiv, Ukraine.


The lecture began with a familiar story of black inner-city poverty and perseverance. Starr attributed his ambition to a lesson learned from his uncles—who were both prominent drug dealers in his community. The class by which his uncles approached neighborhood disputes inspired Starr in a big way.


The lecture shifts to Starr’s HBCU experience at Philander Smith College, where he majored in Political Science. The journalist retraces his interest in the field to a journalism class which he took for fun. That class sparked his interest in international journalism.


Philander sent Starr and other students to various countries—including Senegal, Haiti, and Russia—to explore new cultures through the lens of journalism. Starr, however, emphasized his experience in Africa above all else. Starr immediately noticed the impact of French colonialism on Haitian and Senegalese citizens—most of whom spoke French as their primary language.


However, Starr’s perspective didn’t truly shift until he traveled to Russia. The journalist realized the difference between Eastern and Western race relations. In the east, race and culture intersected—meaning that a person’s cultural background matters more than the color of their skin. Starr also shared his experiences with racism in Russia, which included a violent run-in with a group of skinheads. 


The most important aspect of the lecture came towards the end—where Starr shared details on his experience in Ukraine. As soon as he arrived, Starr noticed the parallelism between Russia’s colonization of Ukraine and North America’s colonization of Black people and other minorities. In other words, white supremacy resembles the Russian colonization of Ukraine.


Starr also offered vivid imagery of the violence and carnage that he experienced on the ground. The journalist and his cohorts experienced an airstrike seven days into his time in the country. Their car sat less than 150 meters from a Ukrainian communication center that was bombed. They were forced to duck from shrapnel. 


Russian Sukhoi Su-25 Grach fighter jets swooped in and obliterated the building, killing four people. This attack was one of many that Starr witnessed in Ukraine. The journalist explains that nothing can truly prepare a journalist to experience the horror of war.


“No amount of class can prepare you for it,” Starr said. “I didn’t know I could do it until I was there.”


Additionally, Ukrainian citizens maintained their harsh attitude towards minorities—specifically against black people. Starr recalled a few instances where he was asked to report on such stories but was unable due to travel difficulties. The Black Diplomats Podcast will elaborate on these black discrimination stories soon.


Starr’s experience showcased the value of traveling as a black journalist and searching for the truth—a duty that Starr believes every black journalist and citizen should embody. 


Copy Edited By: Marlon “MJ” Scott