69-year-old Orest doesn’t believe that age is a barrier to a full life. His own life changed when he started his acting and modelling career at 60. He has since become one of Lviv’s most recognised faces.
“I had to have the life I had in order to become who I am,” he says.
While breaking ageing stereotypes was not his intention, Orest is happy he did.
“If someone had told me 10 years ago that I’d make a 180 turn professionally, I would never have believed them. I’ve worked in construction, in plumbing… I was a man of manual labour for most of my life. However, my background or age never entered the equation when I made the change.”
One day, he came across a newspaper ad for a “stage persona” – a costumed greeter at a restaurant. Intrigued, Orest decided to try his hand.
“I was anxious, afraid even, but I decided to audition. People now tell me that I was ‘born an actor’ but I respectfully disagree. I became one because I made a choice that day. As they say, we are the choices we make. Even as we age, we are still people in the making.”
As Orest was walking up and down the town’s main square dressed as a medieval Lvivian, inviting people into the restaurant, he caught the eye of a popular TV show host. This is how he first ended up on national television. A few months later, he had offers for modelling gigs, TV and photo ads, high-profile music videos and a lead role in a film.
The fame that came with it was even more unexpected than the new profession itself.
“Once a tour guide referred to me as a ‘symbol of Lviv’ and to this day, it’s my proudest achievement!” he beams.
When the full-scale invasion started, he recalls feeling shocked and scared, most of all for his family. But he thinks the realisation did not sink in until much later when he visited wounded soldiers in the hospital.
“I was cosplaying Saint Nicholas – going from ward to ward, trying to lift their spirits. At some point one of the soldiers told me that they would shake my hand, but they only had three hands among the four of them. I think that’s when reality finally hit me. And it was also when I realised that doing what I do, I could help people.”
Now Orest is often engaged in various social projects – as an actor and a motivational speaker. A passionate advocate for healthy living, he uses every platform to speak about the importance of being physically active and maintaining mental health in times of war. Most recently he spoke at a large forum that focused on the needs and challenges of older people, where he highlighted the psychological aspect of ageing.
“Old is not he who has wrinkles at 80 but he whose eyes are dimmed at 30. It’s the fire you carry in you that matters, it’s your will to live. Nowhere does this matter more than in a country at war.”
He says the most important thing that life has taught him is to always be grateful.
“I have a lovely wife to whom I’ve been married for 47 years. I have a son and three beautiful grandchildren. I love what I do at work, and I love what I do when I’m off work: spending time with my family and friends, fishing, cooking. I am a very lucky man!”
The thought of age being something that stands in the way of his enjoyment of life, never crosses his mind. On the contrary, he says he’s happier because of his age, not despite it.
“Each of my wrinkles represents years, experience, happiness or misfortune. They show that I have lived – how can I not love them?! What most people seem to forget is that everyone is young at some point but not everyone gets to grow old. It’s all the more reason to appreciate what I have. The best day of my life is today!”