Yulia was born in 1960 in Dnipropetrovsk. However in 1962, her family moved to Kiev and this was where she grew up. Her mother, Yulia Petrov (born 1935) was a poet, and her father, Joseph Telegina (1926 - 1997) was a factory manager in Kiev. She studied at the Molotov School of Law (1980 - 1983) and then became a lawyer. She joined the Communist Party in 1980, so she could enroll in the school.
In 1984 she left the legal career and joined the Women's Auxiliary Force as a legal officer with the rank of captain. She was still in this post when the Union referendum was held and she later stated that she voted in favour of it. Consequently she left the Women's Auxiliary Force and the Communist Party in 1986 and returned to being a lawyer.
In 1987 she joined the democratic party and became a member of Kiev city council as a legal advisor. She remained legal advisor until 1990 when she became a member of the council and in 1994 she became leader of the council. A year later she was appointed mayor of the city.
Tymoshenko's tenure as mayor was marked by a vast anti corruption campaign, many members of the council were purged from office and arrested over allegations of corruption. She cracked down hard on liberal protests against the results of the 1994 election, where their party had not been allowed to appear on the ballot.
During her time as mayor, she founded the SUGO, (South Ukraine Gas Organisation). Several councillors accused her of using state funds to found the private business and of using state offices to organise the business. All of these councillors were in turn accused of "indecent behavior" and arrested.
She resigned as mayor in January 1996 to take part in the Duma elections the following month. She held the democratic party seat of Kiev Central and first spoke in parliament in July that year.