Couple Shares Experiences/Observations of Russia and Ukraine

Carlyse and Bob met in Ukraine

By Donna Baker-Hartwell
Bob and Carlyse Evans, who met in Ukraine, stand in front of their fireplace, where a rifle with a unique history is displayed. The article explains more about its history.  Photo: Donna Baker-Hartwell

Few people can say they have met Vladimir Putin, former KGB intelligence officer and current President of Russia.

Carlyse and Bob Evans, of North Wilmot Road, told me this extraordinary story of how they happened to come to be in his presence as the three of us chatted in their kitchen. They told of their extensive work experience in Russia and Ukraine, gave me a history lesson of the region – the culture and the people, responded to the on-going war waged by Putin, and shared what they are doing to help Ukrainians.

In 1992-93, as a graduate student, Carlyse went to St. Petersburg, Russia to study Russian language. Putin was the mayor of St.Petersburg at the time and enjoyed meeting with foreign students by hosting “welcome” events. Carlyse and a few of her classmates were mingling not far from where the event was going to take place when Mayor Putin approached. He greeted them in perfect English and engaged them in a discussion about history and his desire to restore Russia’s place in the world and the Russian Empire’s borders.  Carlyse recalls that he was smart, charming, but felt that he had somewhat of an evil look in his eyes.

Carlyse, a native of New Hampshire and graduate of Kearsarge High School, studied Russian and Ukrainian history and economics, writing her dissertation on 19th century economic development within what is now Ukraine. She worked with the Civic Education Project to revitalize the education and curriculum in Social Sciences and Humanities departments in leading universities which are high on the nation’s priorities. She found a 96% literacy rate and her students could speak five languages! While an American visiting professor at L’viv State University, in Ukraine, Carlyse was invited to attend a Fourth of July festival at the United States Embassy in L’viv, Ukraine, 1997. It was there that she danced with her future husband, Bob Evans.

Bob’s connection to Russia and Ukraine begins post G.I. Bill and an education in computer systems. He was one of four founders and owners of Cross-Country Wireless Cable. In the late 1980s, he ran television companies in Russia and Ukraine. He initiated the development of free and independent media for USAID in the former Soviet Union. His twenty-two years in the Russian business culture, and his work in the Ukraine business culture, have given him first-hand insight and a comparison.

Prior to Putin’s Presidency, Bob and Carlyse met with him in Moscow, where they discussed television satellite and cable. Putin’s first wife was in attendance, and they recall that she also had perfect English. Carlyse told Putin that this was her second time meeting him, knowing that he did not remember the first.

Intrigued that Bob was one of the first to set up satellite cable communication,  I asked him about the first televised episode via satellite link of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (1987), when Mr. Rogers introduced his audience to the Soviet children’s television host. I remember watching this episode with our young children during the time of the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Bob replied that he was a part of making it happen, which was one of the first and a technological feat. Wow!

After working and living in Ukraine for many years, Bob says, “ I found a well-educated population that values culture, knowledge, and hard work … a population that believes working smart is working in a way that benefits society.” – Not to mean socialism or communism, but community.

In comparison, Bob talked about how Russia is considered a kleptocracy, a government that seeks status and personal gain at the expense of the governed – corrupt, dishonest, and willing to steal anything of value from others as long as you can get away with it. Hence the motivation behind the invasion of Ukraine by Putin in February, 2022 – to destroy what Ukraine has and destroy a people more successful than Russia. Bob passionately adds, “This genocide, with the purpose of destroying a people that are more successful than Russia, and with a culture that predates Russia, is akin to a maniac smashing Michelangelo’s, La Pieta.

Carlyse offers this of Ukraine’s history, “ Russia and the Soviet Union have tried to wipe out Ukrainian culture and language many times, with Putin’s invasion in 2014 and 2022 the most recent. Even with the repeated attempted genocides, over seventy million people continue to speak Ukrainian.” Ukrainians under Catherine the Great, Stalin, and even now in Russian occupied areas of Ukraine, were and are forbidden to speak their native language, yet, the language and culture continues to survive.” This surely says a lot about the strength of the Ukrainian spirit.

Bob and Carlyse Evans’ passion for, and commitment to, the people of Ukraine is deeply rooted in their personal experience of living and working in the country. They don’t want Americans to forget the genocide that is going on. Carlyse volunteers tirelessly for the cause, meeting with Ukrainian immigrants who are now living in New Hampshire and organizing fundraisers for humanitarian aid. Last month’s concert, “Voices for Ukraine” (see May, 2023 publication of The Andover Beacon p.27) raised $7,000. The charity, Common Man for Ukraine, handles the distribution of funds. Readers may learn more by going to their website:

Note about rifle displayed over fireplace in photo of Bob and Carlyse Evans, as explained by Bob Evans:

The rifle in the background is a Moisin-Nagant M1891 imported from Ukraine. Designed and originally manufactured in the 19th century for imperial Russia, adopted by Soviet Russia and still in use today by the Russian invaders. This Rifle was Made in the Tula armory in 1938. The Tula armory was captured by the Nazis during Operation Barbarossa. The type has a history similar to the AK 47 in that it was used in many conflicts and revolutions from the 19th century to the 21st. From the Spanish civil war, Vietnam, and now in Ukraine.  To us, it represents the transitions from Imperial Russia, Soviet Russia, The Russian Federation, and finally an independent Ukraine. Unfortunately, it also now reeks of the Russian invasion and the Russian tradition of quantity over quality in battle.