This week the BBC published an article about the new-found prosperity of Nizhny Novgorod, the fourth largest city in Russia. This blue collar city of 1.3 million people on the Volga River now has its first IKEA store. IKEA has already opened three stores in Moscow and two in St. Petersburg.
Compared to her last visit eight years ago, the BBC correspondent is surprised at the variety of foods available at a local supermarket (no word on whether the food store sells powdered cane sugar, though) and meets an upwardly mobile young Russian middle class couple at one of the city's new shopping malls.
UPDATE: Our reader Tim Newman, who works in the oil and gas industry on sunny Sakhalin Island in Russia's Far East, writes:
Shame you didn't mention the IKEA which opened in Kazan in late 2005. A good friend of mine was the manager of the whole thing, and I spend a day walking about the place days before its grand opening when I was visiting him and his wife in the city.
Click on the extended post to read an excerpt and for a link to the original article.
A new building at the N.I. Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod
Russians Face Up to Prosperous Reality
In the first of three special reports, Bridget Kendall, the BBC's diplomatic correspondent, reports from Russia on life and attitudes in the provincial city of Nizhny Novgorod.
At 7 am on a sunny spring morning I step down onto the platform in Nizhny Novgorod.
The other passengers on the overnight train from Moscow are well dressed and carrying briefcases - businessmen and women returning from meetings in the capital, it seems.
Nizhny Novogorod is one of Russia's largest provincial cities, an ancient trading centre on the banks of the Volga, due east of Moscow.
It is nearly eight years since I was last here, just before President Yeltsin stepped down.
It seems a good time to come back, ahead of the next transition to a new Russian leader, to see what is new and what Russians think of life under President Putin.
Bears and buskers
At first glance the city has changed a lot.
I walk down the pedestrian precinct leading from the ancient Kremlin walled city that is now the Governor's seat.
Eight years ago I came across a live bear here, begging for food because the local zoo couldn't afford to feed him.
The accordion players on the street corner were university professors, humiliated at being forced to sing for their supper because salaries and pensions were not being paid.
Today the buskers are young musicians. The local zoo enjoys business sponsorship. And the precinct is bustling with smart cafes and many of the same shops as in London.
On the outskirts there is further evidence of the consumer boom that is now transforming not just Moscow, but many bigger Russian cities.
A new shopping mall includes a gigantic blue and yellow Ikea furniture store, offering all the same goods and even fast food Swedish meat balls as everywhere else in Europe - except that the signs are in Russian.
Of course, only if you have a car can you drop in here for an afternoon's shopping.
But the mall is packed with families. I catch up with one young couple, Yulia and Ivan, and their small son Daniel.
She's a teacher, he's a former police investigator who swapped careers to work in commerce to make more money.
They see nothing special in this shopping mall. They are already used to it, I am the one who is astounded.
Yes, we are Russia's new middle class, but we have a long way to go yet.
What I find particularly interesting is that they are too young - in their late twenties - to really recall the chaotic 1990s, let alone what came before it.
I mention the old Soviet adage 'I pretend to work, and you pretend to pay me', and they look at me with blank faces.
"We don't know what you are talking about," they say.
All their adult lives they have lived in a Russia where you need to work hard to bring in enough money to live comfortably.
They own a car, have taken a holiday in Europe and are trying to get a mortgage (another recent change in Russia) to buy a bigger apartment.
"Yes, we are Russia's new middle class," Yulia tells me, "but we have a long way to go yet."
Click here to read the entire BBC article