For a while, life in Libya was good for Oksana Balinskaya, one of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi's Ukrainian nurses.
She made plenty of money, lived in a trendy apartment, and even had a personal driver at her beck and call.
A special Qaddafi-emblazoned gold watch given to her by "Papik" -- a Russian term of endearment used for Qaddafi meaning "little father" -- could be used to "open any door" or "solve any problem" in Libya she tells "Newsweek
But maybe he was a little like Stalin, she admits, estimating that about half the population resented his tyrannical hold on power.
And he was a little weird.
"He liked to listen to Arab music on an old cassette player," she recalls, and was "obsessive about his outfits," adding that during trips through poverty-stricken African countries, "he would fling money and candy out the window of his armored limousine to children who ran after our motorcade."
Even so, Balinskaya is careful to remind readers that there are a lot of silly rumors flying around about Qaddafi, denouncing as "nonsense" suggestions that his fantastically beautiful Ukrainian medical staff also served as a harem.
"The truth is that Papik was much more discreet than his friend, the womanizer Silvio Berlusconi," she says, explaining that he only hired pretty Ukrainian women because he simply "liked to be surrounded by beautiful things and people."
Including himself, according to reports
from a Brazilian plastic surgeon who says he performed a beauty procedure on Qaddafi back in 1995.
Dr. Liacyr Ribeiro, rumored to have treated the similarly beauty-minded Berlusconi, said at the time that Qaddafi "told me he had been in power for 25 years at that time, and that he did not want the young people of his nation to see him as an old man."
But the Libyan leader didn't seem too worried and even ordered a hamburger break midway through the procedure, according to Ribeiro, despite the fact that part of the surgery was...removing belly fat. Hmm.
For her part, Balinskaya was a fresh-faced 21-year-old who didn't know a drop of Arabic when she took her place in a line of candidates vying for employment with the eccentric North African leader.
But the girl had spirit, looking him right in the eye and giving him a solid handshake. Next thing you know, she says, he "picked me."
"I learned he made all his decisions about people at the first handshake," she explains. "He is a great psychologist."
That might be overstating it. Balinskaya managed to play Qaddafi quite well, having made off with the nice deals when times were good and escaping Tripoli before he forced two remaining Ukrainian nurses to help protect him from the mass demonstrations calling for an end to his decades-long rule -- leaving her to share memories with "Newsweek" back in Ukraine.
All in all, not bad for a Qaddafi gig.
-- Kristin Deasy