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Terrell Jermaine Starr stands with local residents in the village of Yehidne, in northern Ukraine, on June 29, 2023. The village endured some of the cruelest acts of violence during the Russian occupation at the start of the war. Russian troops were forced to withdraw in April of 2022.

Who We Are — Meet Terrell J. Starr, a Black Journalist in Ukraine and Creative Capsule Year One Resident Who Believes Reporters Can Have Feelings, Too.

Terrell reported on nuclear trauma and Russia’s war against Ukraine in his Creative Capsule Residency.

Words: Molly Hurley
Pictures: Terrell Jermaine Starr

For those still stuck on the name change from Twitter to X, you’re probably in the majority and in good company. Among that crowd of kindred spirits is someone who has experienced the floodgates of attention after cracking the algorithmic code to going viral on the platform. Terrell Jermaine Starr currently has over 315k followers on X thanks largely to his live coverage as a Black American living in Kyiv, Ukraine at the outbreak of Russian attacks in early 2022. He is also the third and final profile for year one of the Creative Capsule Residency (our first two profiles can be found here and here).

Terrell received his undergraduate degree in English from an HBCU (historically Black college or university), served in the Peace Corps, has two Master’s degrees (one in Russian, East European, and Euroasian studies and another in Journalism), and has won a Fulbright, among many other notable accomplishments and accolades. At his core though, he still proudly claims his hometown: the largest Black city in America, Detroit, Michigan, and now maintains residency in Brooklyn.

When we spoke, we both celebrated and lamented our experiences as people of color in a field that is not always kind to faces like ours working to expand understandings and approaches to audience engagement. With each passing day, however, finding ways to engage and empower audiences not typically included in foreign policy or national security discussions becomes more important, whether that’s through mediums like my column The Mixed-Up Files of Inkstick Media or Terrell’s person-to-person videos on the lived reality for Ukrainians.

Molly: The 101 icebreaker: tell me a little bit about yourself.

Terrell: Yeah, sure. I’m an expert on this region [Russia & Eastern Europe], particularly Ukraine. I’ve been studying this part of the world for more than 20 years. I first went to Russia in 2001 and around then began to understand Russia from a colonial perspective. It was my first experience fully coming to grips with what imperialism means. I’m not trying to make this some wonky conversation that nobody cares about, but I started understanding world powers and control and domination. That made me interested in learning more about how smaller countries could resist bigger ones.

Molly: You went viral for your live coverage on Twitter (now X) from Ukraine last year. What was it like to go viral and did that affect your relationship with journalism?

Terrell: I had to learn to be okay with the fact that I am not a traditional journalist. It’s taken me more than a year to realize that my virality happened because I broke all the rules of what a journalist is “supposed” to do. People saw me because I had a heart and I cared. I think that through all the very rigid and traditional style reporting, which has its place, my work and my presence helped people of all backgrounds to care. So, I was most proud to see Black people engaged with my content given that Black people are some of the most disengaged groups within mainstream foreign policy conversations. And that’s not for no reason, mind you. This field is very aggressively anti-black. In fact, I think the field is anti-anything-non-white.

Terrell Jermaine Starr standing on sand at the Dnieper River where water used to be in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on July 28, 2023. The water level at the river dropped drastically after the Russians blew up the Kakhovka dam, causing an ecological disaster.
Terrell Jermaine Starr standing on sand at the Dnieper River where water used to be in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on July 28, 2023. The water level at the river dropped drastically after the Russians blew up the Kakhovka dam, causing an ecological disaster.

Molly: That’s really impactful. Did you ever feel pressure as The Black reporter and ergo the assumed voice of The Black opinion for the region? I think about how in US classrooms, the sole POC student often gets treated as The Voice of all POC. And it’s shitty to do to students, but even as adults we still sometimes find ourselves in conditions where we suddenly think, “Oh God, am I the voice of ‘my’ people right now?”

Terrell: Haha, yeah, that’s a good question. And my answer is yes. I’ll give you a specific example. It was also a growing experience. I was in Kyiv at the beginning of the war, and we didn’t know how well the Ukrainian military would defend the capital. People were bracing for the possibility that the Russians would take over Kyiv. Although that never happened, within two days of embedding myself into a territorial defense forces unit, I saw alleged saboteurs killed by automatic gunfire and was myself almost killed by a Russian airstrike. I literally saw a Russian fighter jet swoop down, shoot at my location, and about four or five people were killed in that incident.

I saw my life flash before my eyes while, unknown to me at that time, Black refugees were fleeing the country and facing incredible racism. And people asked me, “Why aren’t you covering this!?” With my virality, I suddenly had a level of attention I wasn’t used to. And in that, some questioned my devotion to Black people because I wasn’t at the border. It hurt. I was busy learning how to be a correspondent in active combat, facing issues vastly different from migration issues, and even if I tried to go to the border it’d take me at least four or five days. Navigating Ukraine at that time was a logistical nightmare!

It was tough for me. But I grew from it because I learned that I can’t control how people respond to me, I learned how to manage myself emotionally and professionally in that type of situation for the future, and I learned how to be a better communicator.

Molly: Thank you so much for sharing and opening up about those experiences. In reading your articles with Inkstick, a common theme I noticed is how much of your reporting isn’t just reporting. There’s a lot of explaining, too. Explaining the power plant, explaining Putin’s nuclear threats… it’s not uncommon for situations in foreign countries to become easily mischaracterized, but from your experiences trying to communicate these discrepancies in narratives, any advice for media literacy on foreign issues?

Fighting disinformation is a revolutionary act. And if you are not revolutionary in your resistance against disinformation, you’re gonna be fooled by it. Both domestic and global.

Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell: I’m happy you asked me that question. I believe our constitutional right to free speech and free press entitles us to the responsibility of understanding what we read. Especially with social media nowadays, it is even more incumbent upon us to do so. Yet, as a society, we’ve failed at that. We have not learned to challenge our own biases and to distill what we want to hear from what we need to hear. Fighting disinformation is a revolutionary act. And if you are not revolutionary in your resistance against disinformation, you’re gonna be fooled by it. Both domestic and global.

Terrell Jermaine Starr stands in front of a sign at the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone on August 14, 2021.
Terrell Jermaine Starr at the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone on August 14, 2021.

Molly: I enjoyed your article on Ukrainian socialists in which you highlight some key political differences in understanding between what people in “the West” might believe and what Ukrainians believe. How has your time working in this region affected your political understanding of the world and our current systems?

Terrell: I support Ukrainian fights for sovereignty. I also strongly support Palestine. People think that that’s a contradiction. Because on one hand I support military aid to Ukraine but on the other I don’t support military aid to Israel. The world is complicated, and I’ve had to learn how to explain to people that while I am against militarism there are just some moments where you have to fight.

Me advocating for Ukraine to receive the military means they need to protect themselves does not mean I won’t support Bernie Sanders and Barbara Lee’s efforts for a 10% cut in Pentagon spending. It doesn’t mean I don’t support an audit of the Pentagon. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t want more diplomacy and less military-industrial complex. I want all those things. I also believe that, unfortunately, we live in a world where violence occurs, and we must be able to adequately respond. There is a way that we can critique American militarism without having to deny Ukraine the means that it needs to protect itself against an occupier whose only goal is to wipe out the Ukrainian ethnicity and culture.

Molly: Period. Where are you going next? What’s the next step?

Terrell: I’m moving to YouTube soon. My channel will be called Black Diplomats. I have a podcast with the same name but shifting to video is how I stay viable as an independent journalist. My channel will debut next month where I’ll post videos and updates weekly. I’ll keep exploring new ways to explain foreign policy, focusing mostly on Ukraine but covering a wide range of issues if it means engaging people who are not traditionally included in these conversations.

Molly: Easy transition to the final question then, where can people follow you and stay up to date on all these projects and your work?

Terrell: Twitter is still the best way, but I’m also on Instagram. My Instagram handle is the same as my Twitter. And once my YouTube is launched, then of course that platform will have longer-form updates and content.

Join us on September 14, 2023, at Noon Eastern to hear directly from Terrell and other year one CCR residents at the Creative Capsule Residency Showcase! Register here.

Learn more about the Creative Capsule Residency here.

Molly Hurley


Molly Hurley is a recent MFA in Community Arts graduate from Maryland Institute College of Art. She has previously spent time as a Wagoner Fellow from Rice University, Nuclear Fellow with The Prospect Hill Foundation, FutureFirst Fellow with Beyond the Bomb, and Communications Associate with Women Cross DMZ. In between her ever-growing anime watchlist and full-time work with WombWork Productions, she arguably spends too much time consuming social media but justifies it through her contributions to Inkstick’s culture column The Mixed Up Files of Inkstick Media. She has also published multiple articles with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and serves as a youth advisor for The Prospect Hill Foundation’s nuclear committee.


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