Typically given to soldiers in the Ukrainian army for acts of heroism, the highly prestigious medal For Sacrifice and Love for Ukraine was awarded to Roman Moskalenko, ‘26, by The Orthodox Church of Ukraine in March 2023 — not for having served in combat, but for his generous entrepreneurial work.
People receive this medal, Moskalenko said, by doing something impactful in the war to help Ukraine restore its borders.
“Besides being a soldier at war, one of the ways is to be a volunteer and have a great impact on the Ukrainian army or the Ukrainian volunteer movement,” Moskalenko said. “That’s how I got this medal.”
Moskalenko’s roommate, Illia Slipchenko, ‘26, said when Moskalenko told him about the award, he was shocked.
“It’s not an award that many people get,” Slipchenko said. “I’m really so happy for him, and I think it’s so well deserved.”
Moskalenko was born and raised in Ukraine, where he lived until moving to Silicon Valley, California, at age 16 to finish high school.
It was there, during his senior year, that Moskalenko came up with the idea for LearnUA, an online educational platform designed to teach Ukrainian language proficiency and cultural understanding.
“I really love Ukraine because it’s my ethnicity, it’s my background, it’s just me,” Moskalenko said. “I represent my country and I’m proud of it.”
LearnUA operates in over 25 states in the U.S. and over 25 countries around the world. English classes are now included, as well.
“It’s pretty much Duolingo on steroids for Eastern European languages,” Slipchenko said.
He said it focuses on a small group of languages, allowing for a better quality experience, compared to platforms that focus on more languages with average quality learning.
Because LearnUA is a virtual learning platform, Moskalenko said there is a wide range of LearnUA students.
“We can teach some random woman from the United Kingdom whose daughter married a Ukrainian man,” Moskalenko said. “Or, for example, we have a student who is working at the Pentagon to teach Ukrainian snipers, and because of that, he has to learn Ukrainian.”
LearnUA has seen immense growth since its initial founding, Moskalenko said, and he hopes the organization continues growing.
He said he wants to grow a larger online platform to reach more people, address different learning styles, and expand language offerings to include other Eastern European languages like Polish, Slovak and Czech.
Moskalenko is enrolled in the College of Business. Although he is currently undeclared, he said he is leaning toward a degree in management.
With the help of another member of the business college, professor Olena Nikolsko-Rzhevska, Moskalenko was part of the first cohort of the Ukrainian Association of Lehigh, which was founded in fall 2022. It acts as a space for Ukrainian faculty and students to support each other.
“It’s such a difficult time for everyone, considering that our friends and relatives are still in Ukraine,” she said.
On top of expanding LearnUA and helping lead the association, Moskalenko developed the LearnUA Foundation in February 2022, which sends aid to Ukraine to assist the war effort.
LearnUA and the foundation provide financial assistance for citizens and soldiers of Ukraine while also creating virtual employment opportunities for Ukranians during the war.
The foundation’s donations mostly consist of profits from LearnUA, Moskalenko said, while the rest is from joint projects and operations with Rotary clubs in the United States, mainly in California, as well as private donations to the foundation.
However, he said the type of aid the foundation provides varies.
“It just really depends on the situation, because war isn’t predictable,” Moskalenko said. “Sometimes you need to buy emergency cars to help people escape the war zones, sometimes it’s 10 pairs of socks.”
Moskalenko said he and his team also work to assist Ukrainian war efforts through Goodwill donations and by organizing protests in California, one of which was under the Golden Gate Bridge.
“It’s just nonstop work,” Nikolsko-Rzhevska said. “I’m amazed at how someone so young is able to balance schoolwork and clubs and also manage an online school and help Ukraine.”