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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


There is a little girl you see in Russia every day, on trains and in the metro, on park benches and in schoolyards, at picnics and at concerts. She is a beautiful little girl with enormous blue eyes, chubby pink cheeks and a floral scarf tied loosely under her chin. Her name is Alyonka, and she is on the label of one of Russia's most popular milk chocolate bars.

Alyonka chocolate is one of the triumphs of Soviet brand marketing. It is still, after 30 years, the Red October company's best-selling milk chocolate bar. Part of the appeal is high-quality chocolate: a high percentage of cocoa butter and no artificial cocoa products. The factory still imports several kinds of cocoa beans and produces a blend of cocoa butter on the premises, giving the chocolate a creamy texture and distinct flavor. But certainly a great deal of the marketing success is due to the drawing of that irresistibly cute little girl on the wrapper.

Was there a real Alyonka? The answer to that seems to be: Ask my lawyer.

In 1962, photographer Alexander Gerinas took a picture of his daughter, Yelena, who went by the nickname of Alyonka. The photograph was on the cover of the magazine Zdorovye (Health), and seems to have caught the eye of the chocolate manufacturers at Red October. Yelena Gerinas claims that one of the factory's artists did a drawing of the photograph, turning it into what the company calls "a national Russian image."

Everyone seemed happy until 2000, when Yelena Gerinas, the heir of her now-deceased father, went to court to prove that the image of the wrapper belonged to her father -- and her. She asked for more than 4 million rubles (then $143,087) in compensation. The court did not consider whether Gerinas was the original model for Alyonka, but rather whether she had the rights to the image. In the end, the judge determined that regardless of whether the drawing was based on the photograph, it was a new, independent work of art and ruled against Gerinas. So the jury is permanently out on how closely the chocolate wrapper Alyonka resembled the real Alyonka.

This legal spat does not seem to have dimmed the chocolate's popularity. It remains a source of nostalgia for older Russians, and a source of smudged cheeks and sticky hands for the younger generation of chocolate lovers.