Detroit native helps refugees flee war in Ukraine: ‘It changes you’

‘Your mind just kind of gets acclimated to violence,’ Terrell Starr says

Most people in Ukraine have been busy trying to escape the country.

Most people in Ukraine have been busy trying to escape the country.

One man living there, who is native to Detroit, plans to stick it out in Ukraine. Even though he has witnessed buildings being bombed around him. He has made it his mission to help others escape.

His name is Terrell Starr. He was born and raised in Detroit, about 5,000 miles away from Ukraine. The 41-year-old has called the country home since 2009.

Evrod Cassimy got a chance to speak with him about what it’s like living in the middle of a war.

In photos: These latest images illustrate the reality of the harrowing situation in Ukraine

“Are you safe right now? What is this room that you’re in?” Cassimy asked.

“I am in a village not too far from a western city and I am taking a few days to rest from helping to evacuate from Kyiv,” Starr said.

Starr is a journalist. He said he believe it’s his calling to stay in Ukraine.

“I decided to stay because I knew that, again, this is part of the deal,” he said. “About 15-minute walk from me a missile did hit a residential building. It just gutted it.”

Starr said he has witnessed airstrikes from missiles. He has learned to hit the ground to avoid being struck by shrapnel.

“You hear these sirens,” Starr said. “They’re going off constantly, right? And just (makes siren sound) and just imagine hearing that 24/7 while waking up at three o’clock in the morning and it doesn’t stop and then you hear explosions. And you don’t know if one missile is going to hit you. The first few days I was losing it and so my mind returned about the sixth day because your mind just kind of gets acclimated to violence.”

“What does that do to you as a person witnessing something like that?” Cassimy asked.

“It changes you,” Starr said. “You have to really sit down and think, ‘OK, this is not healthy.’”

Millions have tried to escape the country. Starr has made it his mission to assist them. He spends his days driving families from one side of the country to the other. He is helping them cross the border into Poland, where they will eventually get to Lithuania. The days are long and he finds places for them to stay overnight through a network of strangers on Twitter.

“What really makes it long are the checkpoints,” he said. “You can’t estimate where you’re going to be. So, let’s just say you have to take a break at night to sleep over someplace because the checkpoints are unpredictable. You really have to have a whole network of people and guess where you’re going to be and hope that they will have accommodations for you. And then you have to hope that you don’t run into a Russian checkpoint. You’re basically for a day and a half a caregiver for somebody who really can’t help themselves. That’s what you are.”

Starr has helped three families escape the country. He found them accommodations and food along the way. Why is he risking his life to help others?

“I have a duty and an obligation to follow God’s mission and do what I can for these people,” he said.

Starr has nearly 400,000 followers on Twitter, where he keeps people up to date with the war, the people he’s helping escape and creates a network of people willing to help. For more information, click here.

Read: Witness say army attacks in eastern Myanmar worst in decades

Terrell Starr shares his experiences with racism in Ukraine: ‘This racism that we see was always there.’

Terrell Starr has seen the reports of Black Ukraine refugees experiencing racism as they try to flee the country. He shared his own experiences with Local 4. Watch part two of the interview below:

Terrell Starr was born and raised in Detroit, about 5,000 miles away from Ukraine. The 41-year-old has called the country home since 2009.

About the Author:

Evrod Cassimy is the morning anchor for Local 4 News Today. He joined WDIV in August of 2013. He is an award winning journalist and a six-time Emmy Award nominee. Evrod was born in Michigan but grew up in the Chicagoland area.