Balinskaya, one of five nurses assigned to Gadhafi's personal medical team, fled Tripoli in February as Libya erupted into near civil war. She returned to her native Ukraine and has been in hiding ever since. But in a rare interview with a leading Russian newspaper Tuesday, she lifted the lid on the bizarre world of those living close to Colonel Gadhafi.
According to Balinskaya, Gadhafi's loyal servants call him "Papa," and in return for their loyalty they receive special gold watches embossed with his face, one every year on the anniversary of his coming to power. "On September 1st every year, the date when Gadhafi [assumed power], we were given Italian gold watches with his picture on them. People who have been working for him for six or eight years, why they've got an entire collection already. You can only tell somebody who works for Papa by their watch," she said. On one trip to New York, Balinskaya claimed Gadhafi gave large sums of cash to his entourage so they could go shopping in Manhattan.
"Papa gave a personal order to give us some money so we could run around the local boutiques." She said. According to her, Gadhafi, despite his sometimes eccentric public behavior, is in great physical shape, enjoys eating Italian food, couscous and camel meat.
"Despite his age, Gadhafi can run circles around anybody. He looks after himself and undergoes medical checks every year." She told Russia's Komosomolskaya Pravda.
She also denied persistent rumors that another Ukrainian nurse, 38-year-old Galyna Kolotnytskaya, was romantically involved with Gadhafi. Kolotnytskaya also returned to Ukraine in February but has so far refused to speak publicly of her time in Tripoli.
In leaked U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in December she was described as a "voluptuous blonde," a close confidant of Gadhafi and perhaps his lover.
Gadhafi Gave Aides Gold Watches With His Face on Them
"Galyna worked in the hospital that serviced Gadhafi's family for eight years. She had the same responsibilities as the other nurses, there were four of us, but she was more experienced. The things that have been written about her are made up," said Balinskaya in Tuesday's interview.
Her one regret about her two years at Gadhafi's side? In her panic to leave Libya, she never had the chance to say goodbye to "Papa."