Brezhnev was born in Kamenskoye, Russian Empire (now Kamianske, Ukraine), into a Russian worker's family in 1906. After graduating from the Kamenskoye Metallurgical Technicum, he became a metallurgical engineer in the iron and steel industry, in Ukraine. He joined the Komsomol in 1923 and became an active member of the CPSU by 1929. With the onset of World War II, he was drafted into immediate military service and left the army in 1946 with the rank of major general. In 1952, Brezhnev was promoted to the Central Committee and, in 1957 to full member of the Politburo. In 1964, he succeeded Nikita Khrushchev as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
As the leader of the Soviet Union, Brezhnev's conservatism and carefulness to reach decisions by consensus with the rest of the Politburo resulted in sustained political stability within the country. However, his hostility towards reform and active cultivation of cronyism ushered in a period of pervasive corruption and socioeconomic decline that came to be known as the Brezhnev Stagnation. On the world stage, Brezhnev pushed hard for the adoption of détente, a commitment by both two superpowers towards the relaxation of Cold War tensions and economic cooperation. Despite such diplomatic gestures, Brezhnev's regime presided over a hawkish foreign policy characterized by widespread military interventionism and an arms buildup that ultimately comprised 12.5% of the nation's GNP. Ultimately, in December 1981, he opted not to have the Soviet military suppress unrest in Poland thereby marking the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine.
After years of declining health, Brezhnev died on 10 November 1982 and was quickly succeeded in his post as General Secretary by Yuri Andropov. Brezhnev had fostered a cult of personality, although not nearly to the same degree as Stalin. Mikhail Gorbachev, who would lead the USSR from 1985 to 1991, denounced his legacy and drove the process of liberalisation of the Soviet Union.
Brezhnev was born on 19 December 1906 in Kamenskoye, Yekaterinoslav Governorate, Russian Empire (now Kamianske, Ukraine), to metalworker Ilya Yakovlevich Brezhnev and his wife, Natalia Denisovna Mazalova. His parents used to live in Brezhnevo (Kursky District, Kursk Oblast, Russia) before moving to Kamenskoe. Brezhnev's ethnicity was specified as Ukrainian in main documents including his passport, and Russian in some others.
Like many youths in the years after the Russian Revolution of 1917, he received a technical education, at first in land management where he started as a land surveyor and then in metallurgy. He graduated from the Kamenskoye Metallurgical Technicum in 1935 and became a metallurgical engineer in the iron and steel industries of eastern Ukraine.