Nikita Khrushchev, 1894-1971, was born in Kalinovka in the Ukraine, and worked as a joiner, becoming involved with trade unions during World War I. He first came to prominence fighting for the Bolshevik Red Army in the Russian Civil War between 1917-20. He was charged with the defence of the Ukraine during World War II but recalled to Moscow after surrendering Kiev. He led purges in the region after the war.

He held the post of Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union between 1953 and 1964. In 1955, Prime Minister Georgi Malenkov was forced by Khrushchev to step down, and Khrushchev ruled together with Nikolai Bulganin, the former deputy PM. 1955 also saw the formation of the Warsaw Pact in response to the formation of NATO. In 1956 at the Communist Party Congress he famously denounced Stalin and his totalitarian regime in a "Secret Speech" with no press present. Hungary saw this as a sign of relaxation of control, and withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in the Hungarian Revolution. Khrushchev sent tanks into Hungary, and installed the dictator Janos Kadar. Khruschev also abolished the Cominform international communist organisation in 1956, after easing of tensions with Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia. This year also saw his famous "We will bury you" speech, to Western ambassadors in Moscow. 1957 saw the launch of Sputnik and the start of the US-Soviet space race, leading to Yuri Gagarin's successful Earth orbit in 1961. In 1958, Khrushchev took Soviet power on his own. Mao Zedong of China resented talks with the US, and Soviet refusal to back their nuclear missile programme, and this led to a split between China and the USSR.

In 1960, Khrushchev attended the UN General Assembly, where the Philippines accused him of imperialism in Eastern Europe. He caused rather a stir by removing a shoe and banging it on the table: "Njet! Njet! Njet!" (No! No! No!). That same year the American U2 spy plane was shot down over the USSR, and Khrushchev broke off talks with the US. The US Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 embarrassed Kennedy, and Khrushchev backed Castro and Cuba. That year he also approved the building of the infamous Berlin Wall.

The US's attempts to place their missiles in Turkey, led Khrushchev to try the same in Cuba - the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the edge of nuclear disaster, and Khrushchev was forced to withdraw the missiles. The US also withdrew their missiles from Turkey, and stopped trying to overthrow Castro, but Khrushchev lost popularity. Another unpopular move was when he told farms to grow maize, even though it was unsuitable for Soviet agriculture. In 1964 the Soviet Politburo replaced him with Leonid Brezhnev.

He remained in the Central Committee until 1966, and in the party until his death of a heart attack on 11 September, 1971. He was buried in Moscow, without a state funeral.

Twentieth Century History for Dummies, Dr Sean Lang, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester, UK
The Hutchinson Encyclopedia, 2005 ed, Hodder Arnold, London, UK
National Geographic Concise History of the World, National Geographic Society, Washington DC, USA, 2005

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