On Nov. 11, 1982, a day after the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Vladimir Shcherbitsky chaired the leadership meeting at which Yuri Andropov was chosen to be the next general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.

It was a curious role for Shcherbitsky, a member of the Soviet Politburo since 1971 whose principal function has been to oversee the party organization in the Ukraine, the Soviet Union's second-largest republic.

Why Shcherbitsky was chosen for the honor was never made clear, although some speculated that it was because, as Ukrainian party boss, he was considered an outsider to Moscow party politics.

Shcherbitsky, who met with President Reagan at the White House today, is the son of a workers' family from the Ukraine. He owed his rise to his early association with Brezhnev, dating back to their days together in Dnepropetrovsk in the late 1940s. This region in the Ukraine was Shcherbitsky's native territory and he rose through the party ranks there, becoming first secretary of the Dnepropetrovsk party committee in 1955.

By 1957, he was a full member of the Ukrainian Politburo. He became head of the Ukrainian Republic's government in 1965. In 1972, he was named first secretary of the Ukrainian party and, in this capacity, member of the council for the Kiev military district.

Once in the Politburo, his early association with Brezhnev made him a member of the so-called Dnepropetrovsk mafia, a group of insiders that included Prime Minister Nikoloai Tikhonov and Brezhnev's other close associate, Konstantin Chernenko.

Shcherbitsky's responsibilities in the Ukraine, a key industrial and agricultural center, overshadow his work in other areas. His foreign travels have been mostly within the Soviet Bloc, although he made one other trip to the United States.

Regarded as a hard-liner on questions of dissent and ideology, Shcherbitsky, 66, is seen as one of the old guard in the Politburo, but, because of his base outside Moscow, is on the outer edge of the Kremlin's ruling group.