Piotr Gorelik was born in 1918 in Kharkov, eastern Ukraine. His maternal grandfather, Abram Litvak, was a salesman for the Singer Company, which manufactured sewing machines; in 1919, during the civil war in Ukraine, he was killed by Petliurists (soldiers of the Ukrainian nationalist army under the command by Simon Petliura) in the town of Belaia Tserkov. Piotr's father, Zalman, was an artisan who tried his hand at various crafts. Throughout his childhood and youth, Piotr, like his siblings, had to assist his miserly and greedy father. Piotr would later write in his memoirs that, in his home, "I felt like an extra mouth, but not an extra pair of working hands" [Piotr Gorelik, Istoriia nad nami prolilas', St. Petersburg: Gelikon Plius, 2015]. At the age of 15, Piotr left his father's house to live on his own.
In 1937, Piotr Gorelik volunteered for the Red Army. He enrolled in the Odessa Artillery School, from which he graduated in 1939. In September 1939, his regiment took part in the Soviet invasion of Poland (in the wake of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). In 1940, Piotr was sent as a cadet to the Red Army Military Law Academy in Moscow. However, with the beginning of the Soviet-German war in June 1941, the course was cut short, and he had to return to his artillery unit. In autumn 1941, he was sent to the Kolomna Locomotive Works (approx. 100 kilometers southeast of Moscow), where he first had to supervise the assembling of an armored train, and then take it under his command. In January 1942, the heavy armored train, which was equipped with 152mm (6 inch) howitzers and commanded by Lieutenant Piotr Gorelik, left for the region of Tula and Mtsensk, where the winter counter-offensive of the Red Army was going on.
In his memoirs, Gorelik is highly critical of the armored trains. This form of military transport, which had been effective during the Russian Civil War of 1918-20, proved an easy target for enemy bombers in the era of aircraft. Besides, dropping a few bombs (or even a single bomb) onto the railway tracks was enough to turn the train into a trap. Thus, the emphasis on armored trains during the Soviet-German war reflected the conservatism of the Red Army leadership. In April 1942, Gorelik's train was the target of a raid by a squad of German Ju-87 dive bombers. It was only thanks to Gorelik's leadership that most of the train was saved (its tail section, an armored platform loaded with ammunition, was lost). In summer 1943, during the Kursk Salient operation, Gorelik, realizing the uselessness of armored trains, asked to be transferred to a self-propelled artillery unit. Major Piotr Gorelik went on to serve with this type of armament during the second half of 1943 and early 1944. In 1944, he served on the staff of the armored and mechanized forces of the 65th Army; in this capacity, he took part in Operation Bagration for the liberation of Belorussia. Later, he fought in Poland, stormed Danzig, and crossed the Oder River, before finishing the war on the Baltic coast of Germany.
During the war, Gorelik was awarded the orders of the Red Banner, of the Patriotic War, 2nd class, three Red Stars, as well as several medals. He retired from the Soviet Army in 1978 and worked as a civilian employee of the military until 1988. As a civilian, Gorelik became a writer and literary critic. Among other things, he published a posthumous edition of the works of his lifelong friend, the poet and former soldier Boris Slutskii.
Piotr Gorelik died in 2015 in St. Petersburg.