Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev led the Soviet Union as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and as chairman of the country's Council of Ministers from 1958 to 1964. During his rule, Khrushchev stunned the communist world with his denunciation of Stalin's crimes and began de-Stalinization. He sponsored the early Soviet space program, and enactment of relatively liberal reforms in domestic policy. After some false starts, and a narrowly avoided nuclear war over Cuba, he conducted successful negotiations with the United States to reduce Cold War tensions. His proclivity toward recklessness led the Kremlin leadership to strip him of power, replacing him with Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary and Alexei Kosygin as Premier.
Khrushchev was born in 1894 in a village in western Russia. He was employed as a metal worker during his youth, and he was a political commissar during the Russian Civil War. Under the sponsorship of Lazar Kaganovich, he worked his way up the Soviet hierarchy. He supported Joseph Stalin's purges and approved thousands of arrests. In 1938, Stalin sent him to govern the Ukrainian SSR, and he continued the purges there.