Leonid Kuchma was born on August 9, 1938 in the village of Chaikino, Novgorod-Severski district of the Chernigov Region. His father Danilo was killed in the war, and his mother, Praskovya, worked in a collective farm, bringing up three children.
In 1960 Kuchma graduated from the physico-technical department of the Dnepropetrovsk State University, specializing in mechanical engineering. After graduation he was assigned to work at the Yuzhnoye design bureau in Dnepropetrovsk, where, between 1960 and 1992, he went all the way up from a rank-and-file engineer to director, from candidate of technical sciences to university professor and member of the engineering academy of Ukraine.
Having become the technical head of tests at Baikonur cosmodrome at the age of 28, he took an active part in creating the Cyclone and Zenith class missiles, as well as heavy SS-18 (Satan) missiles and solid fuel SS-24 Scalpel missiles, which constituted the basis of the USSR's strategic forces. He was awarded the Lenin Prize and State Prize of Ukraine for his participation in creating these missiles.
In 1982 Kuchma was appointed first deputy general designer of the Yuzhnoye production association, and in 1986-1992 held the post of general director of the Yuzhny mashinostroitelny zavod association.
In 1990 Kuchma was elected people's deputy of Ukraine.
From 1992 until September 1993 Kuchma held the post of Prime Minister of Ukraine.
On September 10th, 1993 he handed in his resignation as a sign of disagreement with the economic policy and became head of the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.
At presidential elections in 1994 Kuchma won a landslide victory. On September 14, 1999, he was re-elected for a second term.