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KYIV -- For the first time in many years, birthrates have outpaced mortality rates in three Ukrainian regions.

Ukrainian Justice Ministry records show there were 513,997 children born in Ukraine in 2008, a 7 percent increase over 2007.

Births outpaced deaths in the western Transcarpathia Province, in the capital, Kyiv, and Rivne Province.

Many attribute the small "baby boom" to the child benefits paid by the state.

Ukraine gives parents 12,500 hryvnia (about $1,500) for a first child, 25,000 hryvnia for a second, and 50,500 for a third child.

But demographer Ella Libanova told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that the "baby boom" is simply cyclical, with more babies usually being born after a leap year.

Ukraine's population has been greatly reduced since the end of the USSR and the World Bank estimates the country's population will shrink from today's 46 million people to some 37 million by 2025.