Kugach was born in Suzdal. His artistic education started at the Moscow Art Institute and the Surikov Moscow State Academy Art Institute, where he studied amongst others under I. E. Grabar and S. V. Gerasimov. In 1950 Kugach moved to the countryside in the Tver region, which became an inspiration for his work. He focused on the representation of village and country life, which for him were an expression of the nation's prominence. He also depicted typical Russian subjects such as dachas and birch woods with a particular attention to the impact of light and the seasons. Kugach was a recipient of the Stalin prize, Repin Prize and the State Prize of the USSR. In 1948–1951 he taught at the Moscow State Surikov State Art Institute. Yuri Kugach is consider ed one of the 'patriarchs' of Russia realist art. He has worked in many styles and has touched a wide range of themes, but he is best known as the painter of Russian rural life. Until his last days he lived in Tver region and continued to paint landscapes. His works are owned by the State Tretyakov Gallery, Kiev Museum of Russian Art, and many regional museums.