Evans pushed world number 67 Dmitry Tursunov the distance before going down 6-4 6-7 6-4 5-7 6-4 in just under four hours.
The 22-year old was initially dropped from the team by captain Leon Smith, whose change of heart was nearly rewarded in a battling performance against a player ranked 258 places above him.
"It was a good match, I’m proud of my efforts but I'm a bit sore now," said Evans.
"He played well. I can’t really knock how I played and maybe a bit of experience came through."
And experience was also the difference as world number 80 Evgeny Donskoy defeated British number two Ward, who bravely saved two match points before going down 4-6 4-6 7-5 6-3 8-6.
Russia were always favourites for the encounter, especially with world number two Andy Murray continuing his sabbatical from Davis Cup to focus on next month's French Open.
It's just seven years since they won the title and six since they were runners-up and Great Britain must now win the remaining three rubbers to progress to a World Group play-off in September.
Team captain Smith said, “I am so proud of both Dan and James today. It was excellent international tennis, very high level, more than eight hours and great value for money.
"The team spirit was great today and we have it still all to play for tomorrow in the doubles and in Sunday’s singles.”
Wimbledon doubles champion Jonny Marray and Colin Fleming take on Igor Kunitsyn and Victor Baluda in Saturday's men's doubles.