Marchenko was born into an educated family. His grandfather, Mykhaylo Marchenko, was the first Soviet dean of the University of Lviv. His mother was a teacher of literature. Valeriy Marchenko completed the Kiev Academy of Arts and worked in the newspaper Literary Ukraine (Ukrainian: Літературна Україна) as a translator. He translated into Ukrainian from Azerbaijani and Polish. His speciality was Azerbaijani-Ukrainian literary relations.
On June 25, 1973, Marchenko was arrested and charged with Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, mainly for three articles he wrote, as well as his efforts to publicize Ivan Dziuba's work Internationalism or Russification? in Ukraine. On December 29, 1973, Marchenko was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment and 2 years exile.
Activity during Incarceration 
During his incarceration in the Soviet prison system, Marchenko worked as archivist for everything he saw. He collected and published personal accounts about the daily life of prisoners, interviews, and essays.
Second Arrest 
On October 23, 1983, Marchenko was arrested a second time and again charged with Article 62 of the Soviet penal code, Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda. Marchenko was declared a dangerous offender, and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and five years of exile. He was held in terrible conditions, where he became ill. Because of international pressure for the freedom of journalists, he was allowed to move from the camp to a hospital. However, it was already too late.
On or about October 7, 1984, Valeriy Marchenko died in a Leningrad hospital. He is buried in the village of Hatne, in the Kiev Oblast. Today, in Kiev school Number 175, there is a museum devoted to the life and work of Valeriy Marchenko.