Natalya Yevgenyevna Gorbanevskaya was born in Moscow. She was expelled from Moscow State University for political activities, then earned a degree in philology from Leningrad State University in 1964. She went to work as a technical editor, librarian, and translator, while writing her own poetry. Few of her poems were published in Soviet journals; most were circulated privately or published abroad.
With Liudmila Alexeyeva, she began publishing the Chronicle of Current Events, an influential "samizdat" (self-published underground) periodical focused on human rights abuses in the Soviet Union. She published a collection of documents called Noon (published abroad as Red Square at Noon) about the 1968 Red Square demonstration protesting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the subsequent trial of the participants. She was arrested in 1969 for her actions and imprisoned in a Soviet psychiatric prison for three years. She was allowed to emigrate in 1975 to Paris, where she worked as a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and as an editor of Russian-language publications. She remained stateless for 30 years until Poland granted her citizenship in 2005.
That same year, she participated in They Chose Freedom, a four-part Russian television documentary on the history of the Soviet dissident movement.
She participated in a 2011 rally in Moscow to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia that was quickly broken up by Russian police. She was a signatory of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism.