Soccer legend David Beckham handed over control of his Instagram account – and its 71.5 million followers – on Sunday to a Ukrainian doctor caring for pregnant women and their babies in the war-torn city of Kharkiv.

Throughout the day, Iryna, a pediatric anesthesiologist and the head of the regional perinatal center in Kharkiv, posted a moving first-person account of her daily life in Ukraine’s second-largest city, an early target in Moscow’s advance that has been ravaged by missile strikes.

Videos showed her doing rounds underground in a dimly lit basement, where new mothers cradled their babies on makeshift hospital beds lining the walls of the cramped space.

“On the first day of the war, all pregnant women and mothers were evacuated to the basement. … We had to learn how to work with bombings and strikes,” she said, according to captions included alongside the video clip.

“Unfortunately, we can’t take babies who are in intensive care to the basement, because they rely on lifesaving equipment,” she added.

More about Russia’s war on Ukraine


The doctor, who introduced herself only by her first name, said she had worked “24/7” since the start of the Russian invasion in February.

In one video clip, she introduced viewers to Yana and her baby son, Mykhailo, who was born with breathing difficulties on the second day of the war. The boy is better now, but the family home was destroyed and they can’t go back, a caption on the clip stated.

Beckham, one of the most recognizable former athletes on the planet, is an ambassador for the humanitarian aid agency UNICEF, which is ramping up efforts to deliver aid to children and families in Ukraine.

Just 25 miles from the country’s eastern border with Russia, a daily barrage of artillery fire, missiles and rockets has rained down on Kharkiv over the past three weeks – in a grim sign of what could be in store for other Ukrainian cities.

More than 30 attacks on health-care facilities or equipment have been documented by the World Health Organization since the start of Russia’s assault, including an airstrike on a maternity hospital in the port city of Mariupol. A woman and her baby died in horrific conditions in the aftermath of the attack.

About half of the population of Kharkiv, some 700,000 people, have left the city, according to the regional administration, part of a wider exodus that has seen more than 3 million people flee Ukraine. About half of those refugees are children.

“We are probably risking our lives, but we don’t think about it at all. We love our work,” said Iryna, the doctor in Kharkiv, according to captions posted alongside the Instagram clips on Sunday. “Doctors and nurses here, we worry, we cry, but none of us will give up.”

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The Washington Post’s Loveday Morris in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and Annabelle Timsit in London contributed to this report.