Premature Twin Babies Were Saved From War-torn Ukraine by Special Evacuation Team Project Dynamo

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left scores of American families looking for ways to get their loved ones to safety. For one family, this meant working with Army and Navy vets to save their premature twin babies from Kyiv.

Baby hands
Photo: Getty

The last two weeks of violence in Ukraine have been heartbreaking for communities and individuals across the globe. For Alex Spektor and Irma Nuñez, however, they have been especially fraught. The couple, who live in Chicago, had been awaiting the birth of their twins, who were due to be born in Kyiv. The twins were conceived by working with a surrogate, Katya, who lives in the Ukrainian capital.

Twins Born Too Soon

Spektor has roots in Ukraine. Back when the nation was part of the U.S.S.R., his family left as refugees and resettled in the United States. Now, he and his wife were anxiously watching the invasion unfold from the other side of the Polish-Ukrainian border. With Russian forces dropping mortar shells across the country and major cities reduced to rubble, they felt helpless to reach and save their two little ones and the woman who carried them.

The twins, Lenny and Moishe, were born early. Having been born premature, they needed immediate, critical medical care and were admitted to a hospital in Kyiv. Transporting them to a smaller, less targeted, town was deemed too much of a health risk. At first, it seemed like staying put was the best move but as the situation has deteriorated, it became increasingly clear that the twins and Katya needed to get out—and fast.

Operation Gemini Begins

At this point, on the brink of losing all hope, Spektor and Nuñez were reaching out to anyone and everyone they could think of and were connected with an organization that was built to help people in situations exactly like theirs. Project Dynamo is a nonprofit run by Army and Navy veteran Bryan Stern that runs specialist exfiltrations of citizens in war-torn regions who would otherwise be at mortal risk. The site states that they are "extraordinary civilians with no ties to the U.S. government attempting to do the impossible," and includes a page where civilians can submit an evacuation request on behalf of a loved one in Ukraine. According to Stern, there are currently 14,000 applications being processed by case managers.

Stern and his associates completed a total of 13 rescue missions in the first 12 days of the war. The mission to save Lenny and Moishe was deemed Operation Gemini, a nod to the fact that the evacuees were tiny twins.

In addition to the Project Dynamo professionals, two doctors, two neonatal specialists, a nurse and a Ukrainian ambulance crew joined the Project Gemini team. Adding Ukrainian nationals to the operation was necessary, but this choice carried unique risks. Several team members were of conscription age. Had they been sussed out at a checkpoint, they may have been taken to join the ranks of the soldiers fighting the Russian forces on the frontlines.

The crew made as few stops on their way to the Polish-Ukrainian border as possible. They stopped to feed the babies, or to gas up the cars in their convoy. On the way, it began to snow. As the snow began to fall faster, mortar shells were also falling on the roads. Stern later said that the shells were near enough to make the ground rumble underfoot.

A Risky Mission Completed

The mission would have been incredibly risky regardless of who the passengers had been, but having two newborn preemies onboard made things even more complex. Had they run out of fuel, or lost electrical power, or even accidentally exposed Lenny and Moishe to too much dust, the babies might have suffered tragic consequences.

Once they crossed the border, the journey was far from over, but at least one thing was solved—Spektor was able to join the team and to meet his newborn sons for the first time. Now, all they have to do is drive for an hour on treacherous backroads, through snow that piles up faster than it can be cleared, to the nearest hospital in the southern Polish city of Rzeszow. Fortunately, Rzeszow is a large city and the hospital has two beds in the NICU waiting for these teeny travelers.

The convoy was escorted to the ambulance bay by the Polish police. The little ones arrived in an ambulance, which was met by two neonatal nurses who rushed to get them into the NICU safely. Finally, Spektor was able to breathe a sigh of relief. After an eleven hour journey through the most dangerous of terrain, in near-impossible conditions, his children were safe.

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