As Boris Yeltsin slipped into his black Zil limousine, he no doubt could hear the clatter of dozens of plastic miners' helmets striking a nearby fence.
Driving out the gates of the main government building, he must have seen the line of striking miners banging their helmets, waving protest signs and shouting. As his limousine passed, its Russian flag fluttering in the breeze, it appeared the Russian president might have waved.Then he sped away.
"Yeah, we were standing and shouting, `Thief!' and `Impeach Yeltsin!"' one of the miners, Alexei Yegorov, recalled Wednesday, a day later. "But they drove away quickly. Nobody came to talk to us."
"Yeltsin says, `I'm a man of the people.' But nobody paid any attention to us."
For two weeks now, about 200 striking miners from four Russian mining regions have camped at the government building known as the White House, enduring record heat and torrential rain, sleeping in soggy, stinking blankets and promising to stay until Yeltsin is impeached or resigns.
Like millions of Russian workers, they have gone months without pay, working in dirty, dangerous jobs. Like millions, they are fed up.
Unlike millions, they have done something that the government cannot fail to notice. But so far, it has barely acknowledged their presence.
According to trade union officials, there were strikes at 1,283 enterprises and organizations in Russia during the first four months of this year.
Most were relatively small and short-lived, and most passed without being noticed nationally. One that did attract attention was that of miners who tied up the national railway system in May by sitting on the rails.
That miners' strike was considered one of the contributing factors to a financial market crash last month that the government is still grappling to overcome. It was said to have frightened investors, who saw it as an indication of growing social unrest.
Yeltsin suggested Tuesday that the Russian people may be nearing the breaking point after years of free-market reforms that have only plunged many people deeper into poverty.