Yuri excelled in high school and upon graduation, he was accepted at Moscow University’s Faculty of Economics and Cybernetics. Over the next decade, he completed his BA and MA degrees and at age 29, he received his PhD, with a dissertation on economic models. Yuri remained engaged in economic research at Moscow University, with Prof. Khatchtourov, until his immigration to Isarel.
Throughout his studies, Yuri could always be found at the center of a rich array of cultural and social activities, surrounded always by a group of friends. They went on hikes together, attended parties and social events. In 1968, Yuri met his future wife, Lena Kreintzen, on the steps of the Faculty of Economics.
During the late 1960s, following the the Soviet invasion of Prague, Yuri joined an underground student group of anti-Soviet dissidents.
Yuri and Lena were married in Moscow in 1970, and their daughter Polina was born in 1973. When Polina was 4, the Shterns discovered a group of Jewish parents, “Refuseniks,” who had founded an underground Jewish kindergarten. Enchanted with the idea, they joined the group. Following their acquaintance with the other parents, Yuri and Lena began to study Hebrew and Jewish culture, and soon became part of the group of aliya activists behind the Iron Curtain, struggling to immigrate to Israel.
In 1978, their son Marik was born, which served to reinforce their determination to leave the USSR and emigrate to Israel. Their decision became final after Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1980, an event that had a dramatic impact on Yuri. During these years, the climax of the Soviet regime, when the aliya movement was almost completely silenced behind the Iron Curtain, the Shterns were was one of the few families who succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union.
The family left the USSR following the publication in the Western media of a document exposing the depressed state of Soviet Jews. The paper was written iby a group of Jewish aliya activists, with Yuri at the center, and had been smuggled out to several courageous journalists. The Soviet government’s was response was to get rid of the document’s signatories. Thus, only three months after filing an application for an exit visa, the four members of the Shtern family were on a plane to Israel. They left behind Yuri and Lena’s parents, sisters and brothers and dozens of friends, not knowing if, and when they would ever meet again.