The Ukrainian Nurse Speaks: Qaddafi ‘Was Much More Discreet Than His Friend’

MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Picture dated probably in 1930s in Moscow of Yossif Vissarionovitch Dzhugashvili known as Joseph Stalin ("man of steel", 1879-1953), After a failed start as a novice priest, Stalin joined the ranks of the revolutionaries Bolsheviks who seized power in Russia in 1917. Rising ruthlessly through the political ranks of Soviet new regime, Stalin succeeded the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin after his death in 1924 and installed a fearsome process of repression. He become later the head of the Soviet Union and died of a cerebral haemorrhage 05 March 1953. (Photo credit should read AFP/Getty Images and MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images) Photo: Photo-Illustration: Danielle Berman; Photos: MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images (Gaddafi), AFP/Getty Images (Stalin)

It's hard to get a read on Muammar Qaddafi. Sure, we all know he's a ruthless genocidal dictator, but what's he like in his personal life? What's it like from inside his entourage? Oksana Balinskaya, one of the Ukrainian nurses from Qaddafi's stable, who started working for "Papik" (a nickname meaning "little father" in Russian) when she was just 21 years old, offers Newsweek some telling insights by comparing him to other noted world leaders.

None of us nurses was ever his lover; the only time we ever touched him was to take his blood pressure. The truth is that Papik was much more discreet than his friend, the womanizer Silvio Berlusconi. Gaddafi chose to hire only attractive Ukrainian women, most probably for our looks. He just liked to be surrounded by beautiful things and people. He had first picked me from a line of candidates after shaking my hand and looking me in the eye. Later I learned he made all his decisions about people at the first handshake. He is a great psychologist.

For role models, Qaddafi looked further back in history than Berlusconi:

I got the impression that at least half the population of Libya disliked Papik. The local medical staff was jealous of us because we made three times more than they did—over $3,000 a month. It was obvious that Papik made all the decisions in his country. He is like Stalin; he has all the power and all the luxury, all for himself.

Sometimes, however, Papik acted more like a paranoiac rock star than a politician:

Papik had some odd habits. He liked to listen to Arab music on an old cassette player, and he would change his clothes several times a day. He was so obsessive about his outfits that he reminded me of a rock star from the 1980s. Sometimes when his guests were already waiting for him, he would go back to his room and change his clothes again, perhaps into his favorite white suit. When we drove around poor African countries he would fling money and candy out the window of his armored limousine to children who ran after our motorcade; he didn’t want them close for fear of catching diseases from them.

There you have it. Muammar Qaddafi, an enemy of the people, but thrower of candy, lover of beautiful things.

My Years As Gaddafi’s Nurse