In October 1964 at the Congress of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev was elected as the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. During his rule the role of party officials only enhanced. According to the Constitution of the USSR signed in 1977, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was proclaimed to be the “leading and directing force of the society, the nucleus of its political system”, which meant monopoly of the Communist Party on the level of governing the country.
The “era” of L.Brezhnev was the period of stagnation, the final decay of the Stalin system. Reforms introduced by Khrushchev were cancelled. From September 1965 decentralized system of government (Sovnarkhozs), which did not justify itself, was replaced by the centralized system that was being tried out. The majority of enterprises were again subordinate to all-union ministries. Education, science, culture, and medicine spheres hardly got any financial support. The country was continuing to move along the way of extensive development.
Liquidation of Sovkhozs and transfer to the centralized government limited authority of the republic and its administration. Regardless of the declarations concerning the protection of the Ukrainian language and culture, Ukrainian schools were being liquidated and Ukraine was purposefully undergoing Russification.
National liberation movement was becoming more active in the second half of the 1960s, when as a response to the pressure of official bodies the protests against violation of human rights were voiced. All those who were dissent were accused of anti-Soviet nationalistic agitation. One of the ways to protect democracy, spiritual values and national culture of the Ukrainian people was the movement of dissidents (V.Symonenko, V.Stus, L.Kostenko, I.Dzyuba, Ye.Sverstyuk, V.Chornovil, M.Osadchyj, A.Horska and others). Dissidents were criticizing totalitarian regime, they demanded complete rehabilitation of all repressed Ukrainians, extension of civil, religious, and nationalistic rights. Those people fought with the regime by organizing public events, writing letters-protests to the official bodies of the Ukrainian SSR and the USSR, appeals to international organizations, governments of democratic countries, publication and circulation of Samizdat (individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader), circulation of leaflets, actions of solidarity with other nations that underwent oppression of totalitarian system.
In 1970-1972 the newspaper “Ukrayinskyy visnyk” founded by V.Chornovil was issued in Lviv. All information about violation of freedom of speech, rights of the person and nation, guaranteed by the Constitution, about court and outside-court repressions in Ukraine, about demonstration of protests was published there.
New phase of arrests and punishments began when V.Shcherbytskyy, promoted by L.Brezhnev, became the secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine after dismissal of P.Shelest in 1972. Especially active in the struggle with the dissidents was the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union who was in charge of the ideological issues V.Malanchuk and the head of KGB of Ukraine V.Fedorchuk.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Group was founded in 1976 in Kyiv to monitor compliance with the Helsinki Accords. It was the first organized structure in Ukrainian national liberation movement. The group was receiving written complaints concerning the violation of human rights in Ukraine and towards Ukrainians outside Ukraine, it was passing this information to the mass media and to the governments of the states-members of the Helsinki process, it was also protecting political prisoners, it stayed in touch with the famous Russian human rights activist A.Sakharov, and it was also helping those who were once repressed and families of political prisoners. From 1979 the KGB launched a full-fledged war against the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. A range of criminal cases against the human rights activists spread all over Ukraine. All those cases were cynically forged – activists were accused of “parasitism”, “resistance to the police”, “hooliganism”, “rape attempt”, “drugs manufacture, preservation, and selling”. Using these methods in the beginning of the 1980s the government managed to suspend the activity of the Group and to imprison the majority of its members.
In Ukraine there was also a religious dissident movement that was connected with the protection of rights of believers. Especially active in demanding their rights were the Greek-Catholics. Formally liquidated Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church was still operating in the underground in Western Ukraine. The Church was governed from abroad by the cardinal Yosyp Slipyi, who arrived to Vatican in 1963 after his prolonged exile to Siberia.
Despite of constant repressions from KGB, the human rights protection movement did not stop, but rather it won new supporters. In the first years of reconstruction in order to enhance its international prestige, the Soviet regime was forced to release almost all imprisoned dissidents.