US ambassadors, consular officers, and attaches in Moscow come and go, but almost none of the present crew has outlasted a band of embassy "guests" known, simply, as the Siberian seven.
They are members of two large families from the eastern Soviet Union. They are fundamentalist Pentecostal Christians in an officially atheist Soviet state whose authority they have never accepted.
They long to emigrate to America.
Exactly three years ago June 27, they rushed past the ever-present Soviet police guard outside the US Embassy here. They have been in the embassy ever since, now living in a tiny basement room within easy earshot of the occasional taunts of Soviet guards posted near the embassy's north entrance archway.
US Embassy officials assume there is but one realistic way the Siberian seven's dream of emigration could come true: if the Soviet authorities say they may go.
That is viewed as highly unlikely, since the Soviet could then find themselves with many more embassy gate-crashers. Indeed, their emigration is all but impossible in the current stormy environment of superpower relations.
Diplomats here generally reject as naive reported moves by some US congressional circles to grant the refugees US citizenship. The Soviets don't recognize dual nationals. Besides, the fate of the Siberian seven is presumably much more of a political issue for Moscow than a legal one.
The Siberian seven, meanwhile, remain embassy tenants, and many other things as well.
They are human beings: dark, intense Pyotr Vashchenko and his portly wife; their three grown daughters; gaunt and sad-look- ing Maria Chymkhalova and her lanky son.
They are fervent religious believers convinced that to accept Soviet authority amounts to an unforgivable sin.
They are sometimes frightened -- mostly by the thought that they may someday lose their embassy refuge and find instead revenge from the Soviet government. The Soviets have said no punishment awaits the seven if they return home. Pyotr disbelieves this. He says he received word that his second- oldest son, who was seized during the 1978 rush on the embassy, was later beaten and tortured.
They are also a cause celebre for human- rights groups in the West, and not just in the US. A British sympathizer was here recently in connection with a planned London commemoration of the anniversary of the refugees' presence at the embassy.
Finally, some US diplomats here make clear, the Siberian seven represent an embarrassing and still seemingly insoluble political problem for the embassy that feeds and houses them.
Embassy sources suggest that one (theoretical) option, an attempt physically to smuggle the seven out of the country, has not and will not be considered. It might well not work, and would meanwhile amount to flagrant defiance of Soviet law and Soviet authority.
The consensus among US officials remains that the most the embassy can do for the refugees is to let them stay.
And in a few years, even that could conceivably present problems: The embassy is scheduled to move to new quarters.