Yefim Sterin was born in 1924 in the town of Roslavl in Smolensk Oblast, in a Jewish family. His father was a civil servant. Yefim attended school in his native town. There, he became active in the Komsomol, and was elected secretary of the school Komsomol organization. He had just finished the last (tenth) grade of school when the Soviet-German War broke out. The family was able to evacuate to Chelyabinsk in summer 1941.
In September 1941, Yefim began to attend the Novosibirsk Military Engineering Institute. From the beginning, he had been trying to enlist for frontline duty. In 1942, after one year of study, Yefim was called up to serve in the Red Army. However, he was first sent to the Dnepropetrovsk Artillery School, which had been relocated to Tomsk. The school cadets underwent a crash officer training course.
In May 1943, Guards Lieutenant Yefim Sterin was dispatched to the Steppe Front, as commander of a firing platoon of a rifle regiment. Being a brave person by nature, Sterin, commanding his platoon, was one of the first to reach Pushkarevsky Island. In late September 1943, the Dnieper River area saw heavy fighting. Having taken over the island, Sterin's platoon used this vantage point to cover the crossing of the battalion units. Since this was a strategically crucial location, German troops tried repeatedly to break through to the artillery positions; each time, they were repelled by Sterin's platoon. Once, when the Germans had outflanked the battery from behind, Yefim Sterin took part in hand-to-hand combat, and the attackers were repelled yet again. In December 1943, in recognition of his actions during these battles, Yefim Sterin was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, and received the Order of Lenin. In those months, he was also awarded the Orders of the Red Star and the Patriotic War, 2nd class.
Several months later, in March 1944, Yefim Sterin was killed in action during the Uman-Botoșani Offensive, as Soviet troops were liberating sections of right-bank Ukraine and a part of Moldavia. He was buried in the settlement of Krinichevatka in Kirovograd Oblast, which is now home to a monument commemorating him. A street in Krinichevatka and a school in Roslavl have been named after Sterin.