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04/27/2022 08:30 AM

Dick Shriver: Firsthand Knowledge of Ukraine

Dick Shriver and his wife Barbara lived in Lviv, Ukraine, for seven years and continue to receive firsthand reports of the war tearing that country apart. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Dick Shriver has something to say about Ukraine, and not just because he listens to news reports. Dick and his wife Barbara lived for seven years from 1995 to 2002 in Lviv, one of Ukraine’s major cities in the west of the country near the Polish border.

“Putin, he’s pure evil,” Dick says. “He wants to reconstruct the Russian Empire. Ukraine’s independence stuck in Putin’s craw.”

Ironically, he points out that Putin’s rise to power was the result of then-president Boris Yeltsin, the man most responsible for dissolving the political structure of the old Soviet Union. Yeltsin appointed Putin as prime minister in 1999.

“Yeltsin, he was an alcoholic, a clumsy guy, but he realized communism was a fraud and terrible for the Soviet Union. The only mistake he made was Putin,” Dick says.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine surprised Dick.

“I did not think it was possible. I couldn’t believe it. I think now Russia is capable of any kind of evil. I can’t say anything is off the table,” he says. “They are going to keep killing people with the bombardment. I think they are going to kill people unless the Russian people themselves rebel and the military rebel against Putin.”

The world on modern electronic communications means that despite the fighting, Dick is still hearing from friends in Ukraine by email and even by telephone.

“They ask for help. They need everything,” he says.

Dick says Ukraine was a lukewarm partner in the Soviet sphere long before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“They never thought of themselves as Soviet. They’ve tried to win their independence for 300 years,” he says. “They were not enthusiastic members of the Soviet Union; the system tried to beat them down.”

He recognizes that corruption was an ongoing problem in Ukraine.

“Corruption was endemic,” he says, “but that’s what happens when people are officially making something like $1,000 a year.”

Dick was already familiar with Ukraine when he went there in 1995. In 1990, he had taught for a year in an MBA program at the International Management Institute in Kyiv, which in turn led to his conducting seminars on democracy and governance in the former Soviet Republics of Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

When Dick went to Lviv in 1995, it was with a grant from the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation. The grant enabled him to establish an office to encourage private sector businesses in Ukraine. Dick says his office was responsible during his seven-year tenure for the creation and maintenance of some 10,000 jobs in business that varied from textiles to the automotive industry.

He did not speak Ukrainian, but relied on translators for his work.

While the Shrivers were in Ukraine, Barbara got involved in the art world and published a book on Ukrainian artist Volodymyr Shagala, whose detailed drawings record rural life in western Ukraine.

After leaving Ukraine, Dick served as provost of the European College for Liberal Arts–Berlin, now known as Bard College Berlin, for nearly five years.

Though much or Dick’s work has been in international affairs and finance, he graduated from Cornell with a major in mechanical engineering and has a master’s degree in industrial engineering from Ohio State. He served in the United States Air Force after college and says after military service, marriage, and two children, he realized he wanted to learn three things: how business worked, how government worked and how the world worked.

He has now had experience in all three. He got into government when he went to volunteer for Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign of 1972. Instead of volunteering, however, when a campaign official found out about his skill set including expertise in computers, he was hired on full time.

He became director telecommunications and command & control in the office of the Secretary of Defense Department during the Ford Administration and then served in government again during the Reagan Administration an assistant secretary of the Treasury.

He was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service and the Alexander Hamilton Medal from the Treasury Department, that department’s highest award.

Dick maintained his own consulting business started in 1966 for nearly two decades.

“We buried it for good in 1982,” he says.

In the private sector, Dick has worked for such major corporations as Exxon, which was still Esso at the time, McGraw Hill, and Chase Manhattan Bank, now Chase Bank.

His varied experience has taken him not only to Eastern Europe but Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy.

Barbara is used to all the travel now. But in beginning, it was all new.

“I was a girl from Cincinnatti,” she says. “The only place I had gone was Muskegon, Michigan.”

In 2020, Dick embarked on a new venture: he started Estuary, a quarterly magazine focused on the Connecticut River. He is the publisher.

Still, he has time for more. At the end of his talk with a reporter, Dick, an All-Star lacrosse player in college, checked his watch to make sure he would be on time for his next appointment. He coaches the Old Saybrook High School girls’ varsity lacrosse team.

“I am going to be a bus with the team to a game in Cromwell in an hour,” he explains.

A telephone call a few days later revealed Old Saybrook had won that game. The news Dick shared about the team was all good.

“At this point we are 6 and 0,” he said.