Yelchin was born March 11, 1989, in Leningrad, Russia (modern day Saint Petersburg, then part of the Soviet Union). His family is Jewish. His parents, Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, were pair figure skaters who were celebrities as stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet for 15 years. Nationally, Yelchin's parents were the third-ranked pair team; they thus qualified for the 1972 Winter Olympics, but were not permitted to participate by the Soviet authorities (Yelchin has said the reason was unclear: "I don't exactly know what that was – because they were Jewish or because the KGB didn't want them to travel"). Yelchin's family moved to the United States in September 1989, receiving status as refugees from political oppression. As of 2007, Yelchin's mother works as a figure skating choreographer and his father as a figure skating coach, having been Sasha Cohen's first trainer. Yelchin's uncle is the children's author and painter Eugene Yelchin.
Yelchin began acting at the age of 9 in the independent filmA Man is Mostly Water. His earliest roles include Jackson in A Time for Dancing, Milo in Delivering Milo, Tommy Warshaw in House of D, and Jacob Clarke in the miniseries Taken. He made a guest appearance as Stewart, Cheryl David's nephew and a self-described magician (who only knows one card trick), in a season four episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and starred as Byrd Huffstodt, the 14-year-old son of Dr. Craig "Huff" Huffstodt (Hank Azaria), on the television series Huff, which ran from 2004 to 2006. In 2006, he also had a role on an episode ("Tru Love") of the series Law & Order: Criminal Intent, playing a boy who falls in love with his teacher. His biggest film recognition came for the role of Bobby Garfield in Hearts in Atlantis (2001), for which he won Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actor at the 2002 Young Artist Awards. He also appeared in the Criminal Minds episode "Sex, Birth & Death" as Nathan Harris, a boy who has fantasies about killing prostitutes.
^ abcdSlate, Libby (December 22, 1989). "Former Soviet Skate Stars Top Bill at Knott's". Los Angeles Times. p. 1. Retrieved February 16, 2007. "Then too there was religious and political oppression. In 1972, as the nationally third-ranked pair team, they qualified for the Olympics but were not permitted to go because of their religion."