Born in Moscow, Ilya came to the United States in 1996, when he was 8. He started swimming for a local YMCA at 10 and joined the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins at 12. He views swimming for the Silver Dolphins and having the opportunity to train with Diana Munz for almost four years, as she was preparing for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, as his top athletic highlight to date. He made individual top 16 times in the 1500, 800 and 400, at 14. He was selected as Lake Erie Swimming Open Water Swimmer of the Year in 2003 for all age groups.
A two time High School All-American for independent schools. he was captain and MVP for his swim team, which took third in the Ohio High School State Championships.