Welcome to a new NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.
Happy birthday, Lenny and Moishe! You've come a long way, babies.
Who are they? Born premature to a surrogate mother in Kyiv just as Russia began its attack on Ukraine, the twins went through a daring and uncertain journey to reach their eventual home in Chicago. NPR covered the March 2022 mission to evacuate the twins from Ukraine, which was labeled Operation Gemini:
"They were too small to move in the days after they were born into a war zone. But as they grew stronger, Kyiv grew weaker. Now, they are making the run for the border with ... [a] specialist evacuation team of U.S. Army veterans.
It's a treacherous journey that will include Russian shelling, complex border crossings and a snowstorm."
What's the big deal? The fact that the babies get to celebrate their first birthday is itself a victory — both for their family and the people who managed to get them out of Kyiv.
Their parents, Alex Spektor (who was born in Kyiv) and Irma Nuñez, watched in horror as both the war and their surrogate's due date approached simultaneously.
When Katya, their surrogate, went into early labor, the city wasn't safe. But the fragile babies couldn't be moved out of the hospital right away. And even if they could, the drive through conflict zones would be a very dangerous one.
Alex and Irma reached out to military veteran Bryan Stern and his nonprofit specialist extraction team from Florida called Project Dynamo, which rescues people in war zones.
The Project Dynamo team organized a convoy to drive little Lenny and Moishe, as well as Katya, from Kyiv to Poland. They rode with two doctors, two neonatal specialists, a nurse and a Ukrainian ambulance crew.
"The ground was shaking," Stern said, describing the Russian shelling they encountered on their journey. "I mean, the artillery doesn't care what it is — it's gonna land where it lands. The artillery doesn't say, like, 'Oh, well, there's babies here, so we'll go somewhere else.'"
But eventually, the convoy made it over the border to Poland, where their father waited. "The war didn't want to let them go. But we got them out," Spektor told NPR at the time. "They're just tiny but amazing. Because in the photographs they look so big. Oh, my God. Insane."
What are the parents saying now (since the babies can't talk quite yet)?
One year later, the personalities are on display.
Lenny is the dancer of the pair. "Watching Lenny dance is just the most joyful thing I've experienced in a long time," Irma told NPR.
"Moishe is like a — I would say a little tank, if it wasn't too close to home," says Alex. "The little Ukrainian thing. Powerful, straightforward, very strong." "Headstrong," adds Irma. "He knows what he wants and he's fearless, going after it."
So, what now? Parenting twins leaves little time for birthday party planning. But celebrating the twins' routine lives is exciting enough.
Alex says the most thrilling part of their day as a family is sometimes just looking at the babies' poop.
Irma says that a year ago, her main concern was her sons surviving in a warzone. Now she feels lucky to worry about regular parenting things like bath time safety.
"Irma is an amazing mom," says Alex. "Just watching her with kids is incredible for me. And I feel safe when I see the kids with her."
He knows that not everyone gets to feel safe right now, especially in the city where their sons were born. "It's an incredibly personal event," he says. "Our sons are intricately connected to what's happening in Ukraine right now."
Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.