Mogilnoye, Ukraine (CNN) — In the Ukraine house where she grew up, Oksana Balinskaya’s hazel eyes transfixed on television images of Moammar Gadhafi.
He was now a fallen leader, a fugitive sought for justice. He had been known as the ruthless leader of a pariah state, a butcher, a delusional man divorced from reality.
But Balinskaya, 25, who served as one of Gadhafi’s five Ukrainian nurses for nearly two years, had always seen him in a different light.
She had checked his blood pressure, monitored his heart, stuck him with a needle to draw blood, gave him vitamins and pills for his ailments, though he didn’t seem to have many. He was a healthy man.
She even called him “Daddy.” All the Ukrainian nurses did. It was a nickname they used to speak about him among themselves, without attracting attention.
“Daddy gave us jobs, money and a good life,” she said.
Far removed now from the sands of Libya, Balinskaya sat at the kitchen table with her Serbian husband, looking upward at the boxy TV set atop the refrigerator. Images of Gadhafi’s fiery defiance flashed in the face of ouster.
She would feel sorry for him if he were killed or captured, she said.
“Gadhafi was quite considerate to us,” she said. “He would ask us whether we are happy and whether we have everything that we need.”
Every September, on the anniversary of his rise to power, Gadhafi presented souvenirs to his Ukrainian nurses and other members of his inner circle. Balinskaya received a medallion and a watch etched with his picture.
She took turns with the other nurses accompanying him on foreign trips, sometimes sparking rumors spread in the media about Gadhafi’s harem.
All of what was being said about Gadhafi seemed contrary to what she knew about the man — including the allegations by Gadhafi family nannies and domestic staff that they were tortured and abused.
Gadhafi, she said, always treated her very well.
Her job now lost to Libya’s civil war, she pitied the nation.
“If it were not for Gadhafi, who else would have built it?” she said. “It was he who constructed it. He has transferred Libyans from camelbacks into cars.”
The rules were strict: No lipstick
By the time Gadhafi visited Ukraine in October 2009, Balinskaya had graduated from nursing school in Kiev and been working in the area of her native Mogilnoye for three years. But life was not easy in Ukraine; she was making only $125 a month.
She knew of opportunities in Libya and had already submitted an application for work there. It was an opportunity to make a better life for herself. Salaries were higher in Libya and she would receive housing and other perks.
She had been waiting for about a month to hear back when Gadhafi arrived on his state visit to Ukraine.
A meeting was arranged for him to meet six personal nurse candidates. Balinskaya was one of them.
She knew little about Gadhafi then and felt nervous at their first meeting. Three of the six nurses had already worked in Libya and knew Arabic. Balinskaya thought she did not have a chance.
Gadhafi greeted them but Balinskaya found nothing special in the selection process.
“I don’t know how he made the choice; perhaps he was a good psychologist,” she said.
She learned later that he understood people from that first handshake, from that first gaze into their eyes.
Soon, she was on her way to Tripoli. Her job was solely to treat Gadhafi and his large family.
The rules were strict. The attractive Ukrainian nurses wore no flashy makeup or revealing clothes.
“Our appearance was very humble so as to not attract anybody’s attention,” she said. “We would never put on lipstick going to his house and have vivid colors in our clothes.”
She was always surrounded by others — Gadhafi’s wife, children, grandchildren, officials within his inner circle.
“None of us had ever been one on one with him,” she said. “There wasn’t even a single room in his household where we could have possibly been left alone with him.”
That’s why she was shocked by the gossip that Gadhafi had sexual relationships with his foreign nurses.
Veteran Ukrainian nurse, Galina Kolonitskaya, 38, who had worked with Gadhafi for nearly a decade, was described in a U.S. diplomatic cable posted by WikiLeaks as a “voluptuous blonde” who “knows his routine.” It said the Libyan dictator was deeply attached to her.
“Galina was the same kind of nurse as we all were,” Balinskaya said. “She is of course a glamorous and very kind woman with a big heart. She helped me a lot.
“I don’t know who created this image about us nurses, as well as about his female bodyguards,” she said. “How could anyone in sane mind assume that we could have had any intimate relationship with Gadhafi?”
Hoping to return to Libya
Both Balinskaya and Kolonitskaya left Libya in February when the uprising against Gadhafi took root.
But it was not just the threat of war that prompted Balinskaya to leave.
She was pregnant then and had started showing. She returned to her native Mogilnoye, a village south of Kiev. Her husband Dejan, a 38-year-old Serbian businessman, joined her there.
A month ago, as Gadhafi’s regime teetered, Balinskaya gave birth to a baby boy.
Journalists were also eager to hear Kolonitskaya’s tales of Gadhafi, lining up at her apartment door. But she has avoided publicity.
“All that gossip about her is untrue,” Balinskaya said. “She was totally fed up. There was too much attention on her for no reason.”
The nurses, she said, had no personal relationship with Gadhafi.
“I can only say good things about him,” she said, thinking of the comfortable life she had in Libya, dreaming of how to make it happen again.
“I very much hope that we will return to Libya,” she said, flipping through an album with photographs of herself in Libya.
Only, it will be a different Libya now. One without Gadhafi. Without “Daddy.”