Iurii Berkal was born in 1911 in Novoaleksandrovsk (later Zarasai, Lithuania), to the family of a shoemaker. During World War I his family was expelled by the Russian authorities from Lithuania. The Berkals settled temporarily in southern Russia, but after the revolution, moved to Vitebsk, in Soviet Belorussia. There Iurii began working in a cooperative, repaired bags and briefcases and then as a porter at the railway station. In 1929 he entered a school for military pilots.
Berkal began his active service during the Soviet-German war in the capacity of the commander of a fighter aircraft regiment, with the rank of major. He was awarded his first military honor, the Order of Red Banner, in November 1941, at the time when the Red Army was retreated and few military awards were awarded by the Soviet Union.
By the end of the war, Berkal had been awarded seven military honors (and he received five more orders and a number of medals after the war). From 1943 to 1945 he was commander of the 282th Aircraft Division. In 1944, he attained the rank of colonel.
After the war (in 1953), he was promoted to major general, but four years later he was dismissed from the Army, being forced to retire at the age of 46.
Berkal died in 1988.