Less than two decades ago, young writers, journalists, and adventurers such as Katya Cengel flocked from the West eastward to cities like Prague and Budapest, seeking out terra nova. Despite the region’s appeal, neither Kyiv in the Ukraine nor Riga in Latvia was the type of place you would expect to find a twenty-two-year-old Californian just out of college. Kyiv was too close to Moscow. Riga was too small to matter—and too cold. But Cengel ended up living and working in both. This book is her remarkable story.
Cengel first took a job at the Baltic Times just seven years after Latvia regained its independence. The idea of a free press in the Eastern Bloc was still so promising that she ultimately moved to the Ukraine. From there Cengel made several trips to Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. It was at Chernobyl that she met her fiancé, but as she fell in love, the Ukraine collapsed into what would become the Orange Revolution, bringing it to the brink of political disintegration and civil war. Ultimately, this fall of idealism in the East underscores Cengel’s own loss of innocence. From Chernobyl with Love is an indelible portrait of this historical epoch and a memoir of the highest order.
Katya Cengel is a freelance writer based in San Luis Obispo, California, and lectures in the Journalism Department of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She was a features and news writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal from 2003 to 2011, and her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Marie Claire, and Newsweek. She is the author of Exiled: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to California and Back (Potomac Books, 2018) and Bluegrass Baseball: A Year in the Minor League Life (Nebraska, 2012).