At one point in Sweet Darusya, Ivan took Darusya to the regional clinic for her headaches. The book noted that the doctor there had his "entire monthly pay" in his pocket.

I'm a little confused as to why that would be the case, though. Why might he have had his entire monthly pay in cash on his person in the middle of the work day like that? Were people routinely paid once a month and in cash in the USSR?

Also, what's the relevance of that fact in this context? Why would that have contributed to his refusal to treat Darusya?

  • 1
    It may be that you think about doctor's salary like it is/was in the USA. In the ussr they were totally underpaid. I haven't read Sweet Darusya, so I don't know what is exactly meant by it.
    – Andra
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:55

1 Answer 1


I haven't read the book and don't know the exact context, but I'll risk to answer anyway from my experience.

Doctors, like most workers, were usually paid twice a month (normally 40+60%), cash in hand. But I don't think it's relevant.

Because doctors were underpaid, as @Andra says in the comment (or rather, were paid like any office worker, many below average), it was customary to pay them in cash privately, or make other favours or gifts, especially if you wanted "above-average" treatment. It could range from a bar of chocolate as a thank-you after the fact to a pretty hefty fee upfront for the privilege to be admitted on better conditions.

Some doctors made such earnings their primary income. This doctor was perhaps one of them. But because it was, of course, illegal, it was rarely declared openly. If the patient doesn't get the hint (like a pocket full of cash, indicating the scale of the fee), he/she doesn't get the treatment...

  • That would actually make sense - Ivan also put two drimbas (and a third object I can't remember offhand) on the counter beforehand. Maybe the doctor was dissatisfied with the gift and wanted a cash bribe? Feb 16, 2023 at 13:52
  • I do also remember from Zinky Boys by Svetlana Alexievich that Soviet soldiers placed a high trade value on "Western goods" like radios. Maybe he just didn't think that the drimbas were particularly valuable and was hoping for either cash or something with a higher trade value (such as a Western good). Is that possible? Feb 16, 2023 at 14:00
  • @EJoshuaS, well, yes, the general problem with the Soviet economy was that cash didn't have much value above a certain minimal amount (its nominal value notwithstanding). One just couldn't spend it all: things (above the basics) were hard to get. So goods, and particularly the rare imported goods, had higher value. But then, this depends on personal preferences, and things easily get convoluted.
    – Zeus
    Feb 16, 2023 at 23:52

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