MOSCOW (AP) - A Russian region best known as the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin has found a novel way to fight the nation's birthrate crisis: It has declared Sept. 12 the Day of Conception and for the third year running is giving couples time off from work to procreate.
The hope is for a brood of babies exactly nine months later on Russia's national day. Couples who ``give birth to a patriot'' during the June 12 festivities win money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.
Ulyanovsk, a region on the Volga River about 550 miles east of Moscow, has held similar contests since 2005. Since then, the number of competitors, and the number of babies born to them, has been on the rise.
Alexei Bezrukov and his wife, Yulia, won a 250,000 ruble prize - equivalent to $10,000 - in June after she gave birth to a baby boy, Andrei. Bezrukov said patriotism wasn't their motive for having a child, their third, although the money was welcome.
``It was a patriotic atmosphere, you know when everyone around is celebrating, but I wasn't thinking of anything but my son,'' he said. ``The whole thing is great, it's great to get 250,000 rubles when you have a new baby to take care of.''
Russia, with one-seventh of the Earth's land surface, has just 141.4 million citizens, making it one of the most sparsely settled countries in the world. With a low birthrate and very high death rate, the population has been shrinking since the early 1990s.
It is now falling by almost half a percent each year. Demographic experts expect the decline to accelerate, estimating that Russia's population could fall below 100 million by 2050.
Usually when I post I like to include a graphic of some kind, but in this case I don't think I should.