SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - The red, white and blue of the Russian flag was still flying above the Russian consulate in San Francisco Thursday, but packing boxes were outside the front door, as people waited outside the brick building surrounded by mansions on Green Street in Pacific Heights.
The U.S. State Department ordered the closure of the consulate and two other diplomatic facilities, prompting many people to rush to the consulate to complete paperwork or get a passport before the mandatory closure Saturday September 2nd.
The State Department says the U.S. is not expelling any Russian personnel, those in San Francisco can be reassigned to other posts in the United States and the Russian consulates in Seattle and Houston will remain open.
"It was a huge shock,." said Yelena Bondarenko of Pleasant Hill, who came to get documents notarized, "I understand the politics of reciprocation. Sometimes it's a natural process but in this case I just can't believe that's happening between our countries."
"I had to drive up today to get my passport to go to the World Cup in Russia next year. Today was the only day so I had to rush over here," said Tommy Kharisov from Saratoga.
Olga Tarlykova from Emeryville came for her passport and says she has friends planning to make the trip to San Francisco Friday from Southern California after hearing about the closure.
"Given the embassies were closed in Russia, it was expected," said Mila Milina of Menlo Park who also came to the consulate Thursday.
The State Department says it was in retaliation for Russia's decision to limit U.S. diplomats in Russia.
"Een after these closures Russia will still maintain more diplomatic and consular annexes in the United States than we have in Russia," said Kathleen Kavalec, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Russian Affairs.
"It's our hope that with this move in the direction of parity which the Russian said they were seeking, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides. Our goal is really to get to better between our two countries," said Kavalec.
Just weeks ago...Russia kicked out some American diplomats in retaliation for U.S. sanctions over Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election.
"The Russians expelled over 700 diplomats several weeks ago in retaliation for the sanctions imposed by Congress," said Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco.
"We really haven't seen this kind of thing since the Cold War," said Zunes.
Zunes says the consulate closure is also closing a chapter of San Francisco's history.
"The Russian consulate has been here in the city since 1852. It is the longest running consulate in the entire United States. It goes back to the time of the czars," said Zunes.
San Francisco is home to thousands of Russians and Russian Americans, with churches, businesses, and strong roots and history in the city. For many, the consulate closure represents more than a loss of convenient travel documents and support for cultural programs. It is also a sign of the times.
Russia and the United States should improve relations like in different areas, economics, IT...not to start war again," said Mikalai of Walnut Creek.