In full Leonid Danylovych Kuchma, the second president of independent Ukraine (from 1994). Born Aug. 9, 1938, Chaykyne, Ukraine, USSR.
After graduating from Dnepropetrovsk State University in 1960, Mr Kuchma embarked on a career as an engineer, serving as Communist Party secretary (1972-82) for his company in Dnepropetrovsk. During those years he also retained a top-secret post as a technical manager in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, the centre of the Soviet space program. From 1986 to 1992, he served as the general director of Yuzhmash, the world's largest rocket construction firm, in Dnepropetrovsk.
In October 1992 Mr Kuchma was appointed prime minister by Mr Leonid M. Kravchuk, Ukraine's first democratically elected president. Mr Kuchma clashed with Mr Kravchuk over economic policies and resigned from the post after one year.
In 1993 Mr Kuchma was appointed chairman of the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the following year was a professor at Dnepropetrovsk State University and academician of the Engineering Academy of Ukraine.
In the 1994 presidential elections, Mr Kuchma defeated the incumbent Mr Kravchuk, a nationalist, by reaching out to former communists.
His popularity steadily declined, however, as his reforms failed to improve the country's economy. In 1999 he was re-elected president, though observers alleged voting irregularities.
Since his re-election for a second five-year term, the economy has shown signs of recovery. However, questions remain over Mr Kuchma's commitment to economic reform and he has survived mounting calls for his resignation.
The president has consistently denied allegations of involvement in the killing in 2000 of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, who had been critical of his administration. He also rejects opposition accusations of displaying dictatorial tendencies in his leadership style.
Mr Kuchma underwent surgery in November 2003 for an intestinal problem.
Presidential elections are due in October 2004. The current constitution does not allow Mr Kuchma himself to run for a third term.