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Since the first of Grozny's maternity hospitals reopened a week ago, 45 babies have been born. More than three-quarters of them are boys.

"It's a Chechen secret. They say that during wars more boys are born to make up for all the ones being killed," said Hospital No. 4's director, Lidia Dzhabagiyeva, a stout woman in a white coat and cap."But really," she added softly, with downcast eyes, "if we were any good at secrets we'd know why this war began."

Life is slowly, painfully returning to the bombed-out Chechen capital, more than two months after Russian troops claimed to have conquered it from secessionist Chechen forces.

While the war gradually moves southward toward the white-capped peaks of southern Chech-nya, daytime Grozny bustles surrealistically in the warm spring sunshine.

Against a backdrop of charred buildings, women in high heels pick their way along dusty streets still carpeted with broken glass and piles of rubble. Apartment dwellers purposefully sweep debris off streets and sidewalks, while Russian soldiers rumble by in armored personnel carriers.

Cars clog the road into and out of town - many bringing refugees back to see their homes. More and more of them are staying.

Tables of food and other products line the streets; one car heading into Grozny was stuffed floor to ceiling with loaves of bread.

Despite the buzz, of course, the hive is still crushed. Grozny has no electricity or running water, no shops, and no significant construction work is visible.

Moscow has promised about $1 billion to rebuild the capital - a sum that seems scarcely enough to repair even a few blocks. So far, individuals have taken on most of the building and cleanup.

"Any reconstruction so far is just on paper, but the desire is there," said 68-year-old Tatyana, a retired electrical engineer who was carrying home a windowpane she had ordered from the new government headquarters.

She lives alone downtown near a former movie theater, and joins a line there each day for water from the theater's emergency sprinkler system.

Health officials worry that the same spring weather that has lightened some of Grozny's gloom and dusted its streets with cherry blossoms will also bring epidemics. The city's rubble still hides corpses, and many people are living in dank cellars.

"Getting any social services in place will take a long, long time," said Zaindi Choltaev, minister for state property in Chechnya's new, Moscow-backed government.

Standing in the hallway at government headquarters - a former oil institute now dimly lit by generators - he acknowledged that public confidence in the government was low. Recent reports of atrocities by Russian troops in the countryside haven't helped.

Grozny's streets are still heavily patrolled by troops and gunfire rings out every night. Still, there are sprigs of hope amidst the destruction.

"Joy," said Zarema Isaeva, 22, on seeing her newborn twin boys for the first time Tuesday at Hospital No. 4.

Isaeva, who had a Caesarean section and was being fed intravenously, was too weak to hold the two swaddled bundles with red, puckered faces.

During her week in the hospital, her family brought food and medicine, much of which the hospital couldn't provide.

"This is our only happiness these days," said her mother, Tarisa Daltsova. "Think how lucky we are that this hospital opened."