His Soviet chauffeur did not come to work today, so U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hartman had to drive himself.

In the absence of Soviet maids, butlers and assistant cooks, Donna Hartman helped cook lunch for 17 guests, and hors d'oeuvres for a reception for 200; U.S. Marines washed the dishes and served at the bar.

"It is not so bad," Donna Hartman said tonight, as she passed a silver bowl filled with popcorn to a group of Soviet generals. "It is almost fun."

The reality of life without Soviet staff to clean, cook, drive, do repairs and translate dawned today on the U.S. Embassy here, and 225 diplomats and their families had to adjust quickly to the latest development in the embassy wars.

For many, the initial reaction to the wholesale withdrawal of Soviet staff was to rally to the communal cause -- and reach for the apron, the broom or the tool kit.

"Americans pull together. We will rely on internal resources," said Ralph Goff, who today was manning the embassy garage. "The main problem right now is to find someone who can handle a wrench."

"We didn't conquer a continent by giving up," said embassy spokesman Jaroslav Verner. "It is not the American way."

Yesterday, the Soviet Union announced that it would bar all Soviet employes from working for the U.S. Embassy or U.S. diplomats, as a response to the expulsion from the United States of 55 Soviet diplomats.

Soviets estimated the number of local staff here at 260, but Americans said it was probably less than 200. All Soviet employes work for a branch of the Soviet Foreign Ministry.

A large proportion of those dismissed from American employment today were household servants. According to Goff, there were six mechanics and 50 drivers attached to the garage. Only a few Soviets held office jobs, since they were barred by U.S. security rules from working in all but public parts of the embassy.

The hardest hit today were American families who had come to depend on Russian maids as baby sitters. "Our kids loved her, and she loved them," said one young father. "It was hard on all of us. It was a shock."

Word filtered through to the Soviet staff yesterday evening and this morning. Last night at about 11 o'clock, Hartman's chauffeur drove the ambassador home to Spaso House, the official residence, and bid him goodbye.

This morning, most Soviet employes were apparently informed of the order by their superiors. A few came to the embassy anyway to collect their things.

At Spaso House, the staff of 11 gathered for the last time. "There were some very sad faces in the pantry this morning," said Donna Hartman, whose staff included employes who had worked at the embassy for more than 20 years.

An Italian cook and two compatriots were still working at Spaso House today, preventing the complete annihilation of the residence's staff. However, the Soviet Foreign Ministry yesterday said nationals from "third countries" would also be barred from working for Americans, which raised questions about the Italians' future.

"I see the pizza is as good as before," said a Soviet official ominously at tonight's reception. "Not everything is yet clear."

Despite the personal losses, the general mood at the embassy today was upbeat. "We'll survive," said one U.S. diplomat cheerfully as he came in from an eerily quiet courtyard.

On most days of the week, the embassy is filled with milling crews of Soviet and American workers, unloading mail, furniture, milk and produce.

The courtyard -- opening onto a clinic, a snack bar, a maintenance office, a garage and a commissary -- is a community unto itself. Each week, shipments arrive from Finland with 1,000 liters of milk. Every other week, the embassy commissary receives 2,800 pounds of fresh produce to supplement the meager supply available here. Personal mail is sent to and from here via Finland, avoiding the delays and scrutiny of the Soviet postal system.

Today, the courtyard was empty. The snack bar was being run by temporary custodial personnel, called in on an emergency. Instead of the usual fare of cheeseburgers and a daily special, today's offering was pizza -- at $ 2 a slice.

Handwritten signs were posted on the doors asking non-embassy personnel to stay away from the snack bar, but they ended on an optimistic note: "We hope that this will only be a temporary situation."

Diplomats today said the main loss will be in the embassy's ability to cope with Soviet bureaucracy: buying tickets, getting repair work done, ordering goods from abroad and picking them up and getting them through customs. "We can do it, but the American taxpayer is not paying us good money to go pick up food at customs," one diplomat said.

As the Soviet employes vanished, so did their experience and their skill at dealing with the labyrinths of Soviet society.

"We are losing a lot of very experienced workers, who knew both systems -- the Soviet and the diplomatic," Goff said. "There were also very human relationships."

Since 1985, the U.S. government has been gradually reducing its dependence on Soviet personnel, for political and security reasons. "This just speeded the process up a little bit," noted Ambassador Hartman.