March 28 When Nick Wilsdon met his Russian wife, Anna, on the Internet,
friends teased him about his mail- order bride. Turns out, he was a
Three years after first exchanging e-mails with Anna on an online dating
site, the Web designer from England's south coast made the 2,200-mile trek
to Ivanovo , Russia's ``City of Brides.'' He and Anna are now expecting
their first child.
The Ivanovo region has the highest ratio of women to men in Russia, a legacy
of the Soviet textile mills that imported female workers from across the
country. The city, which once helped marriage bureaus recruit young women
for foreign spouses, is now enticing residents to stay and raise families.
That's fuelling a baby boom as Russia struggles to stem a population decline
``When I get in the lift of our building, I'm surrounded by so many kids it
makes me think of rabbits,'' Wilsdon, 32, says at the 12th floor apartment
he shares with Anna, 29, in Ivanovo.
Since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Russia's population has dwindled
4.1 percent to 142.2 million. Unless fertility rates improve, the population
may plunge to 128 million by 2025, the Washington-based World Bank said in
By contrast, births in the Ivanovo region jumped 7.8 percent last year, four
times the pace of 2006, according to national statistics. The number of
second children in families rose by a record 24 percent, more than double
the Russian average.
With the death rate declining and the outflow of people reversed, city
officials expect the population will stop shrinking this year for the first
time since the Soviet era.
Ivanovo achieved the turnaround by making the most of its biggest asset:
women. According to Russian government statistics , 56 percent of the city's
432,000 people are women.
To encourage them to stay and raise children, the city has doubled the
number of subsidized home loans for families, added 1,000 kindergarten
spaces in two years, and built a new maternity hospital, says Deputy Mayor
``We're not calling ourselves the `City of Women,''' Svetushkov says. A
bride is a ``partner for life, a symbol of the family. We'd like to tell
people to come here to find their happiness.'' Other Russian regions have
had less success in boosting their birth rates.
In Ulyanovsk, south of Moscow, the local government gave mothers and