She dyes her hair pink and purple, models, stars in music videos and commercials, and has almost 10,000 followers on Instagram. Alla Rogozina, a 59-year-old retiree, isn’t the usual Ukrainian pensioner.
Living in Lutsk, a city of 217,000 people 400 kilometers west from Kyiv, Rogozina does not miss her youth in the Soviet Union, enjoys her life, and says people should stop limiting themselves.
“I want to show people — especially the ones of my age — that it’s possible to live a different life,” she told the Kyiv Post. “So many people are gloomy, irritated. We shouldn’t shrink into ourselves.”
Rogozina doesn’t, for sure. Recently she received an offer to participate in a commercial event of Schwarzkopf Ukraine, a haircare products company, which she gladly accepted.
Even though modeling brings her some money, Rogozina, whose monthly state pension is just about $50, says it’s rather a hobby for her than an occupation.
“This is just showing who I really am,” she says.
Star is born
Rogozina’s star career started in late 2016 after her daughter Nadia, a Kyiv-based journalist at one of Ukraine’s TV channels, invited her to participate in a TV show about people that stand out. During the shooting, Rogozina dyed her hair, added color to her wardrobe, and got an Instagram account called @hipsta_granny.
Since then, she’s been a guest on numerous other TV shows, tried hip-hop dancing, snowboarding, tennis, and carting. There isn’t anything that she would not like to try, Rogozina says, with the only exception for drugs.
“I would even get a tattoo in a while, but I’m not there yet,” she says. “I have so many things to do first. I want to learn English, I want to travel the world.”
Besides Instagram, Rogozina is active on Facebook, and has recently started a YouTube channel.
With more and more people subscribing to her Instagram account, which now has 9,369 followers, Rogozina started receiving messages from people asking her why she had decided to change her look and be so colorful.
“But I didn’t decide anything,” she says. “I’ve always been different. In the Soviet times, everything was the same, all the clothes, everything. So I had to sew, knit, tailor, redesign.”
Since she used to work in a prosecutor’s office, she couldn’t dye her hair pink, but she dyed it bright red. She doesn’t miss the old times, and says people who do only miss their young years, being unable to accept themselves at the older age.
“Our souls don’t get older, only bodies do,” she says. “I feel like I am still 35, maximum 40.”
Rogozina’s daughter Nadia, 30, says that older people in Ukraine are usually far from being socialized, and there is a common perception that “if a person is retired, all they should do is sit at home.”
When her mother moved to Kyiv for a while in her late 50s, she couldn’t find a job, Nadia says, with people rejecting her because of her age.
“I was outraged! Look at her! She is active, she is open to new ideas, she is brave,” Nadia says.
In Ukraine, nearly 12 million out of 42 million citizens have reached the official retirement age — it varies from the early 50s to 60, depending on the job and is higher for men than women. Even though the pensioners are allowed to have jobs while they receive their state pensions, only 660,500 people, or 5.5 percent of all pensioners are employed.
Zhanna Yeremenko, the head of the Kyiv-based Schaslyvi Lyudy (Happy People) charity fund that provides retirees with food, medicine and clothes, says this is the most abandoned group of people in Ukraine. And while 60-year-olds still can find some side job, or at least take care of themselves, those who are over 70 are often helpless.
“I don’t like this phrase, but people often just write them off,” she says. “People consider the older people objects that can be fooled.”
As her mother’s manager, who helps her to negotiate all her commercial activities, Rogozina’s daughter Nadia also gets outraged when people don’t take her mother’s modeling serious. Many companies, when booking Rogozina for a photo shoot, think that they can pay her close to nothing, because she is “just a granny,” the daughter says.
Sometimes, however, Rogozina works for free, Nadia says, when it’s a cooperation “with aspiring and talented people, and we want to support them.”
However, the main achievement of Rogozina’s fame, Nadia believes, is that through Instagram, her mother now inspires other Ukrainians around retirement age to change their lives.
“They message her, saying that when they see her pictures, they follow her example, remember that they are people as well, that they have dreams, that they are able to love, and have fun. I am very proud of that.”