The dissident movement in the USSR came into existence during the Khrushchev-era “Thaw,” which followed the denunciation of the Stalinist cult of personality at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956. The Khrushchev era was a time of liberalization in the USSR; some criticism, and freedom in art was allowed by the regime. The result was that many intellectuals began demanding even more political and cultural freedom.

In Ukraine many of those associated with the dissident movement argued for adherence to the constitution of the USSR and against the policies of Russification and destruction of national culture. In the 1960s, a number of talented young writers emerged who demanded increased freedom in literature and the right to express nationally conscious ideas, a right ostensibly guaranteed by the Soviet constitution. Known as shestydesyatynyky (the Sixtiers), these writers represented a national renaissance in Ukrainian literature.

When Khrushchev was deposed in 1964, the process of de-Stalinization begun by him came to an abrupt end. With the ascent to the post of General Secretary of CPSU of Leonid Brezhnev, a severe crackdown began on the dissident movement. Many dissidents sent to labor camps, or falsely declared insane and interred in psychiatric hospitals.

The crackdown on the dissident movement became one more chapter in the cycle of repressions that defined the history of the USSR. Many dissidents spent a decade or more in labor camps, psychiatric hospitals or exile in an attempt to force a renunciation of their views. Few actually did renounce their views. Upon release as a rule they were denied employment in their field and earning a living was purposely made difficult. Unable to find employment, dissidents were often re-sentenced for parasitism.

When perestroika began in 1985 political prisoners began to be freed or allowed to return from exile. The last political prisoners in the USSR were not freed, however, until 1989 or 1990. In Ukraine, the dissident movement is important in that it represented a serious challenge to Soviet power, and was the continuance of the struggle for national self-determination that finally succeeded with the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1991