Love in the time of plague
published by Onet, Poland
Janusz Schwertner tells the story of a 14-year-old transgender boy who, under the influence of persecution, transphobia, homophobia and the collapse of Polish child psychiatry, committed suicide. Schwertner's article caused a storm in Poland. It started a debate on child psychiatry, terrible statistics on child suicides in Poland and homophobia. For several weeks, the topic was taken up by all media in Poland. The hero of the text, Wiktor, has become one of the symbols of the victims of the anti-LGBTQIA+ campaign in Poland.
Are you thinking about suicide? Do you need help now?
- Andorra: call 112
- Armenia: call (2) 538194 or (2) 538197
- Austria: call 142
- Azerbaijan: call 112 or 510-66-36
- Belarus: call 112 or visit this website
- Belgium: call 1813, 106, 107 or 3
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: call 0800-300303 or 124
- Bulgaria: call 0035 9249 17 223 or 112
- Croatia: call 01/48 33 888 or 112
- Cyprus: call 112 or 199
- Czech Republic: call 222 580 697, 549 241 010 or 112
- Denmark: call 70 201 201 or 112
- Estonia: call 655 8088 (Estonian), 655 5688 (Russian) or 112
- Finland: call (358) 09 2525 0111, 010 195 202 or 112
- France: call 01 45 39 40 00, 01 46 21 46 46 or 112
- Georgia: call 116 111 or 2 421 422
- Germany: call 0800 111 0 111, 0800 111 0 222 or 0800 111 0 333 (for children and youth)
- Greece: call 1018 or 166
- Hungary: call 116-123 or 116-111
- Iceland: call 1717
- Ireland: call 116 123 or 112
- Italy: call 06 33777740, 112, 800 86 00 22, 06 77208977 or 199284284
- Kosovo: call 080012345
- Latvia: call +371 67222922, +371 27722292 or 113
- Lithuania: call 116 123 or 8 800 28888
- Luxembourg: call 112 or +352 45 45 45
- Malta: call 179 or 112
- Moldova: call 0037360806623
- The Netherlands: call 0900-0113 or 112
- Norway: call 116 123, 22 40 00 40 or 112
- Poland: call 89 19288, 89 527 00 00 or 112
- Portugal: call 225 50 60 70, 213 544 545 or 112
- Romania: call 0800 801 200, 0800 0800 20 or 112
- Russia: call 051, 8495051, 007 (8202) 577-577 or 112
- Scotland: call 0800 83 85 87
- Serbia: call (+381) 21-6623-393, 33 47 007 or 193
- Slovakia: call 051 / 7731 000, 112 or email [email protected]
- Slovenia: call 116 123 or 112
- Spain: call 717 003 717 or 112
- Sweden: call 90101, visit this website or call 112
- Switzerland: call 143 or 112
- Turkey: call 182
- Ukraine: call 73-33
- United Kingdom: call 111, option 2, call 116 123, call 999 or 112, or text HELP to 85258
Trigger warning: suicide, self-harm, transphobia, homophobia
He still managed to find the time to sit his eighth grade exam, and even got through with a score of 98 percent. He shared the good news with mum and then went straight from school to throw himself in front of a metro train.
April 17, 2019
Centrum underground station, Warsaw. Security cameras register every move of the passengers.
The video shows the boy carefully tying his laces, first one shoe, then the other, looking around, and finally, with the train approaching, casually jumping under the rushing carriages.
The wheels broke his cervical backbone, pelvis, lower jawbone, burst his spleen and lungs.
A crowd of onlookers gathered, an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital, then the police and other emergency services. Two hours later the situation at the station was under control. At the hospital, the boy was fighting for survival.
His name was Wiktor.
May 14, 2019
Less than a month later, security cameras registered the strange behaviour of another young boy.
Kacper kept strolling along the Wilanowska metro station in his socks. Train drivers had been instructed to be vigilant and to enter all stations in Warsaw at minimal speed. It was known that this boy had also known Wiktor and could throw himself under a train as well.
In the end, the boy was found by police officers. They ran up to him and quickly left the underground together.
“How did they meet, those two?”
“At the ‘Żwirki’, a few months back,” says Kacper’s mum. “They got very close there. And once out, they were inseparable.”
The ‘Żwirki’ is the children’s hospital on Żwirki i Wigury street in Warsaw.
September 2017, Wiktoria
Two years earlier, Wiktor was still called Wiktoria. At 13, she was just starting in a new school. She had to move; following school reform, her own primary no longer supported years 7 and 8.
Wiktoria was a sensitive type, she had an artist’s soul. At playtime, she wouldn’t take video clips or fool around with other kids, she’d read books. In class, she drew manga. In her free time, she edited anime videos. In a classroom context, people like her are toast in a matter of weeks. She would often hear other kids ask her: “Wassup, manga nut?” Derisive sneers followed her every step of the way.
She reassured mum that she did not wish to change school again, she would survive somehow. But by the end of the school year, she confided in another girl that she wanted to kill herself.
September 2017, Kacper
Kacper displayed the same traits as Wiktor: gentle and sensitive, certainly not for our time. That’s what his mother, Agnieszka would later say.
He also adored manga, disliked soccer, preferred art classes. He wore his hair long, had long eye-lashes, blue eyes, and moved differently to most boys. To other kids, he was ideal material for a class fall guy. Especially as their class teacher was his complete opposite: strong, fit, forthcoming, given to mocking his pupils’ weakness. This was no place for a boy who did not go for sport.
Agnieszka remembers well when she noticed changes in his behaviour. She was scared. When asked what was going on at school, he was evasive. He said his mates would laugh at him and tease him. But he would only tell her the whole truth months later.
At that time, she was regularly visiting the teacher, asking him to react. He was surprised, complained that Kacper did not like to kick ball with his mates. Once, he asked her directly: “Why won’t your son simply conform?”
June 2018, Wiktoria
Józefów near Warsaw. Bed linen bears the mark of a previous patient. It is dirty, smells of sweat, but it is the dried blood stains that make the worst impression. They will not allow you to forget where you are, even for a moment.
You will have to lie down, fall asleep, and wake up in this bedding somehow, and hold back revulsion.
Just after awakening, new daylight reveals the walls of the room. They are scribbled over with all manner of felt tips. Inscriptions proclaim: “I will kill myself tomorrow,” “Fuck life.” There are drawings, too, mostly of penises and gallows. And there are traces of blood everywhere, old, smudged, reaching up to the ceiling.
Warning: these images contain graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing
Iron rods stick out of several beds, which can be easily used to self-harm. They are dirty, full of microbes. Many patients use them to tear the skin on their arms, legs, calves. Hence the blood-stained bed linen and walls.
First thing, you pass the nurses’ room. It is a kind of a mini-admission. Here, parents fill in the forms, children deposit their belongings. Wiktoria left her shoelaces there, a pendant chain, and a watch. From there, you proceed down the corridor to your room.
But it is not always so. The ward is often overcrowded. At times, there are two or even three patients per bed. Then, children admitted freshly after attempting suicide are bedded on mattresses. Those are placed in the corridors – they are old, dirty, patched up here and there with grey wrapping tape, where they have been cut or torn. Some are too short for children, whose legs stick out onto the floor.
As you continue, you will notice peeling walls, broken furniture, and sideboards with doors missing. A stale smell prevails. Children potter around aimlessly, often with fresh cuts on their arms and elsewhere.
Warning: these images contain graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing
At the end of the corridor there is a bathroom, common for boys and girls alike. It is approached via a niche with open shower cubicles barely covered by torn curtains. In order to use the toilets, you need to walk past the showers. Even if children do not intend to peep, they sometimes do so unwittingly. In order to wash herself, Wiktoria always waited for her mum’s visit. Mother stood on the lookout to prevent other children peeping at her in the shower.
This is what it is like at the Childhood Psychiatry ward in Józefów near Warsaw.
It was Wiktoria’s first time there. She had confided in her school friend that she had suicidal thoughts, and the friend, Julka, told the class teacher. The teacher let Wiktoria’s mother know, while the school psychologist advised a psychiatric consultation. That was why Wiktoria ended up in Józefów.
“I remember the first night. I was so shattered that I had to leave her there that I returned to the car and started to cry,” says Justyna, Wiktoria’s mum.
June 2018, Kacper
The class dubbed Kacper a “poofter,” a “mental fuck-up,” “manga ponce,” “Japanese gay.” Once, boys surrounded him, dragged him to the loo and pushed his head down the toilet. Another time, they pulled down his trousers in front of other children. He endured hell daily.
On one occasion, classmates called him a “bi.” He did not understand. Back at home he asked mum what they meant.
Over time, he would understand better and rebel more. He would pick white and pink clothes from the wardrobe, use hair clips with his long fringe, put on pink necklaces. Once, he brought rainbow flags home. He began to identify with the LGBT movement. But he did not know if he was gay or not.
June 2018, Wiktoria
When confronted head-on with Józefów, parents often worry that time spent there will only aggravate the situation. But they bring their children anyway, they see no alternative.
Justyna discharged her daughter from Józefów after four days.
Earlier, Wiktoria confessed to her that she was scared of one of the boys. He would run around the ward, beat his head against the walls, shout obscenities. He hit other children aiming his fist at their shoulders, kicked, swore at patients and nurses. No one seemed to react. Wiktoria was afraid to go to the bathroom alone, even to the common room.
“Those were inhuman conditions. Like in a horror movie,” says Justyna. “Doctors didn’t find time so I couldn’t learn anything from them. It was all left to the nurses who didn’t pay any attention. Children were running down the corridor, fighting and spitting at one another,” she recalls.
Wiktoria was seen by a psychologist only once. Overworked doctors did not have time for more consultations. In the end, the girl implored her mum to take her back home. The doctor agreed and recommended psychotherapy as an outpatient.
September 2018, Kacper
At the start of the seventh grade, Kacper self-inflicted his first cuts, but only where no one would notice. He cut the skin in the groin with a razor blade, then washed off the wounds with water, pulled up his trousers and carried on.
Then he cut himself with a pencil sharpener blade during a school break. The teachers called an ambulance. Mother took him to the psychiatric ward at the Żwirki i Wigury hospital for the first time.
They arrived at mid-day, but waited eight hours to be seen. Kacper self-harmed again in the hospital bathroom. Agnieszka ended up forcing her way to the woman doctor on duty. But she threw up her hands: she had no time to see them. They returned home. Two days later, a private psychiatrist discovered that the boy had been nursing active suicidal thoughts. He issued an immediate referral to Józefów.
“When I walked in there, my first thought was that it could double up as a set for a movie about Belarussian or Ukrainian mental asylums in the ‘60s,” remembers Agnieszka. She saw what Justyna and Wiktor had seen before her: beds and furniture falling apart, dirty linen. She noticed bedbugs in many places.
A boy of nine or so kept running down the corridor in a straightjacket with a padded helmet on his head. He yelled and occasionally squealed like a cat. Then he would bang his head against the wall. The nurses stood nearby, unmoved.
“It is a double shock for a mother. You see how dreadful this place is, but then you remind yourself that all this time your child wants to kill himself. You swallow, you fight the tears,” says Agnieszka. “Kacper spent six weeks there. I will regret that to the end of my days.”
She can talk for hours about what she saw there. Once, she entered the ward and saw children collectively cutting themselves with sharp objects. No one was in charge in the common room, blood was dripping from their arms. She went to the nurses but heard: “Well, you can’t watch them all the time, they are like that, those punks.”
It is common in Józefów to refer to boys and girls alike as ‘punks.’ Threats are commonplace, too. Agnieszka remembers this scene: a girl standing by the nurses’ cubicle and crying: she wanted to call her mum. They kept ignoring her, but in the end one of them had enough and asked her irritably: “You want to go in the harness?”
“You’ll go in the harness” is the most common threat at the children’s ward.
Warning: these images contain graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing
Another time, a male medic was going about his business on the ward. A strange looking type, he set his sights on a 15-year old and kept complimenting her incessantly, all in front of the nurses and other children. Kacper recalled that the girl constantly heard from him what a beauty she was, and that she was always favoured in every respect. The other children kept whispering that something was afoot between those two.
Yet another time, in the showers, the same that Wiktor was so ashamed to use during his stay at Józefów, a girl got a brutal beating from two other patients. Police arrived and an ambulance, but no one had reacted early enough.
November 2018, Wiktoria
In November, Wiktoria told mum that she wants a sex-change. Her mother recalls:
“She just came to me and told me that she did not feel like a girl but a boy. I hugged her. I assured her that what counted to me was only her happiness. But in reality I was worried all the time. Not about her decision but about how much suffering awaited her yet.”
The first stage in a metamorphosis from girl to boy unfolds on two planes.
To start with, Wiktoria asked her mum to buy her male clothes and underwear. She went to a hairdresser and ordered a short crop. Immediately, she dyed her hair dark. In a flash she looked like a boy.
And then she asked to be addressed by a masculine variant of her name. She became Wiktor.
Earlier, she had read about corrective gender surgery. She kept thinking of it for a long time. She felt alien in a female body. She knew that she was still too young for the surgery, but no matter, she would wait.
When he learned of his daughter’s decision, Wiktor’s father, who abandoned the family shortly after the baby’s arrival, said “she must be well fucked-up.”
November 2018, Wiktor
Wiktor is already in eighth grade. He arrives at school in his new format.
To his mates, he is still the same ‘manga nutter,’ but from now on also a ‘ponce’ and a ‘poofter.’ The class Facebook group is largely preoccupied with jeering at him. Soon, the prosecutor’s office would attempt to gain access to the account to search for evidence of persistent bullying of the boy. Eventually, Wiktor left the group on his own initiative, but before he did, he dramatically asked his school mates: would they wish for the treatment they were meting out to him?
Julka remained in the Facebook group. She for once was not particularly thrown by Wiktoria’s change into Wiktor. She implored him not to take other kids to heart, they were stupid and understood nothing. But Julka did show him the growing number of horrible posts. It was all getting to him. He asked to be addressed as Wiktor at school, but teachers stubbornly continued to call him out by his old name. He had enough.
He tried to kill himself on New Year’s Eve by cutting his veins. An ambulance was called in and took him and his mother to the Szaserów hospital to stitch-up his arm, and from there to the psychiatric ward at Żwirki i Wigury.
It was there that he met Kacper.
November 2018, Kacper
Kacper was discharged from Józefów with a diagnosis of an “improperly developing personality.” He returned home, but five days later tried to kill himself again. He swallowed the whole lot of his prescription antidepressants combined with a months’-worth of diabetic medication he found at home. An ambulance rushed him to Żwirki i Wigury. The initial prognosis was bad, but he was saved by a whisker.
December 2018, Wiktor
Wiktor was exhausted by constant humiliation at school.
Before he ended up at the ‘Żwirki’ and met Kacper, he had visited several doctors. He really came to like one psychologist and quickly found a common language with her. But she called Justyna one day and told her that her son contemplated suicide during their meetings. Under the circumstances, she explained, Wiktor ought to go for an assessment at the hospital over several months before she could start his therapy.
Right from the start, they had reservations to the psychiatrist, Dr Andrzej Towalski. At the first appointment he diagnosed depression and ordered medication. The visit was short and went tolerably well.
During the second appointment, when Wiktor looked already very much like a boy, Dr Towalski gawked at him like at a freak. He remarked that she could not go for sex change surgery anyway, because she was still a minor. And that she should better try snuggling-up to a man because it is “well pleasing.” Before parting, he also expressed hope that she might yet change her mind because she was such a beautiful and delicate girl.
He added a hand-written diagnosis on the patient’s record: “(Wiktoria) prefers girls.” He pressed his stamp under the diagnosis and prescribed another batch of medication.
December 2018 – January 2019, Wiktor and Kacper
Following his overdose of prescription drugs, Kacper remained at the ‘Żwirki’, the same place where no one had attended to him for eight hours after his previous suicide attempt. He was sent to the psychiatric ward in a state of utter exhaustion.
On New Year’s Eve, Wiktor joined him, soon after cutting his veins. That is when they met, in January 2019, four months before the incident in the underground.
January 2019, Wiktor and Kacper
Wiktor’s consultant at the ‘Żwirki’ hospital questioned Dr Towalski’s diagnosis. She did not think Wiktor suffered from depression. Instead, he presented with adjustment disorder and signs of personality development disorder.
Nevertheless, she prescribed seronil, an antidepressant, and in higher dose, too. Wiktor’s mum was not aware of that, she would learn only a few weeks later, when her son was discharged from hospital. Why was he given an antidepressant if he did not suffer from depression? She would never come to learn that.
Kacper was also on seronil during his stay at Józefów. And apart from that, also on ketrel. He was prescribed both drugs by a doctor. Five days after leaving the ward, the boy tried to kill himself. Wiktor, too, would be prescribed ketrel in a private clinic, before the attempt in the underground.
Both would be stuffed with the two drugs for a good few weeks.
Ketrel is a strong medication for adults only. It is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder. Administer it to children, contrary to the European Medicines Agency’s advice, and it can bring about woeful effects for life: robotic behaviour and attention problems even with most mundane tasks.
Seronil can be only administered for depression. Wiktor did not have it diagnosed. Research has shown that treatment of non-depressive adults with this drug doubles the risk of suicide. And what of children!
“The doctor told me only that he would sleep better after ketrel,” Justyna recalls.
Ketrel and seronil are routinely prescribed to children both on psychiatric wards and in private clinics in Warsaw. To give them to undiagnosed young patients or those not troubled by depression, and without proper monitoring, too, is to play with death.
January 2019, Wiktor
Wiktor did not have it easy on the ward. The nurses refused to address him as a male. They said they were too busy to be bothered with such nonsense. He got fed up again.
Agnieszka, who would often visit the ward at the same time as Justyna, remembers the following scene: she left her son’s room and went down the corridor. It was so crowded with children on mattresses that one could trip over them. One of them was Wiktor. Suddenly, Agnieszka heard a nurse shout: “Wiktoria, come here!” She looked at Wiktor and saw that the boy was irritated. Then she turned to the nurse and remarked confused: “It’s not Wiktoria, it’s Wiktor!” And the irritated nurse responded: “Wiktor, Wiktoria, you are all crazy.”
And she parted with: “This punk is a girl, I’m telling you!”
January – March 2019, Wiktor and Kacper
Early in the new year, both boys were discharged from the ward. They embarked on a new chapter in their lives, together.
Not a day passed where they would not be with each other. Wiktor fell in love with Kacper. Kacper was still too young to comprehend it fully. For the time being, Wiktor was his best mate, and that was fine.
A Warsaw cinema, Świt, ran a season of anime films, which they could finally enjoy together. They also went skating, or for walks along the banks of the Vistula with Justyna and Agnieszka. They met mostly at Kacper’s. They would mess around, watch video clips together. Once, they came across a doll of a fairytale character, which they called Zenek and giggled that it was their son. They were inseparable and laughed all the time. Just as kids would.
While visiting psychologists, Wiktor referred to Kacper as his boyfriend. He remarked that he had stopped self-harming for him. He also spoke of his most cherished dream: to marry Kacper one day, somewhere abroad.
February 2019, Wiktor
The toughest bit was the school. After leaving hospital, Wiktor appeared there only twice. Then he entreated his mum to let him skip it and not to be sent there ever again. Every time he returned from school, he thought of suicide.
Justyna arranged for individual tuition. At his first geography lesson, the teacher asked him if he should address him by his male name. Wiktor confirmed, grateful and in shock; it was the first time anyone from the outside world respected his choice.
It was different on the ward. Even the psychologist addressed him as Wiktoria. The same with doctors and nurses. But the geography tutor was a lone exception, to all the other teachers Wiktor remained a girl.
On Valentine’s Day, he could not restrain himself any longer . He cut his forearm and was taken to the Żwirki i Wigury hospital once again. But there were no beds available and he was not admitted. On his arrival, the ward was 180 percent full.
Justyna panicked. She took her son to the same psychologist with whom Wiktor had hit it off a few months earlier. She was surprised to see them again. She repeated it was too early for therapy and Wiktor had to go to hospital for assessment. The sooner the better, because he was in such a state that even a slight crisis, an argument with mum or Kacper, could lead to tragedy.
But there was no psychiatric ward in Warsaw prepared to admit Wiktor.
March 2019, Wiktor and Kacper
One day, late in the evening, Kacper went out to see Wiktor off to the metro station. He was not returning a long while and Agnieszka began to worry. She called his mobile, but heard only that he had to see Wiktor all the way home after all. Then he switched off his phone. Wiktor did the same. They were incommunicado.
Agnieszka and Justyna were petrified. They both jumped in their cars and drove to the same bus stop, close to Wiktor’s home. They found them there at last. Kacper was shaken, crying. He said that Wiktor wanted to jump under the train.
“It’s a nightmare for a mother to hear her child wants to kill himself. This is always shocking,” says Justyna.
It was at the end of March, and they went to Józefów once again. Justyna told the doctors her son wanted to throw himself under a metro train. But once again admission was refused.
In their written reasoning, the doctors stressed that Wiktor “had only one suicidal thought” and that during a consultation he denied that he nursed any plans to kill himself in the future. Besides, hitherto, he had managed suicidal thoughts “in a constructive manner,” while his latest self-harm cutting had taken place back in February, nearly a month earlier.
So, there was no reason to admit him for assessment.
Justyna desperately begged for her son to be admitted. She mentioned that Wiktor’s psychologist refused to continue with the therapy and advised hospitalisation. The doctor suggested changing the psychologist, since “this one could not handle the problem.”
She wrote on the patient’s card: “no threat to life or health,” signed her name, impressed her seal, and thanked them for the visit. She recommended further psychotherapy.
If only a doctor could be found to conduct it.
Justyna had a sense of foreboding. It is not possible to negotiate a prompt public health service psychotherapy appointment in Poland. But it is practically impossible to do so privately either.
Finally, they ended up in a private clinic in Warsaw. The doctor examined Wiktor and called in Justyna. He said he was helpless; during the consultation Wiktor had turned into stone. He refused to talk, did not answer any questions. Under the circumstances the doctor had to refuse undertaking psychotherapy.
Wiktor told Justyna that he would either go to the previous psychologist or none, because he trusted only her.
April 2019, Wiktor
Three weeks later he cut his throat with a razor blade. He reassured hospital doctors that he was in control of the situation.
He explained it had not been a suicidal attempt, he knew very well where the blood vessels were situated, biology was his favourite subject. He just did it because he had quarrelled with his boyfriend and was sad when Kacper would not reply to his texts for a while. But he had calmed down, because he knew that Kacper would soon forget the grudge. “I am sorry. I am long done with suicidal thoughts,” he told the doctors.
Justyna remembered the psychologist’s words: “Even the slightest argument may lead to tragedy.”
The throat-cutting incident happened in Kacper’s house, on the stairs, immediately after Wiktor had left his apartment. Indeed, they had quarrelled over something earlier. But Kacper suddenly had a new worry: his aunt, Agnieszka’s sister, died suddenly. He went to the hospital with his mother. The doctors confirmed his aunt’s death at the very moment when surgeons were stitching together a large wound on Wiktor’s neck.
“The hospital referred Wiktor to Józefów,” says Justyna. “But first they asked me: ‘Why wasn’t he admitted long ago?’”
They got there the third and last time. After a short interview with Wiktor, the doctors concluded that his self-harming was the result of an argument with a boyfriend. They saw no reason to take him in.
“I was desperate,” says Justyna. “I knew that Józefów was a terrible place to be in, but the main thing was to keep him safe until some other solution could be found. I was scared for him, so scared that something bad would happen.”
“And did they finally agree to admit him?” I ask.
“No. The doctor pronounced that I was being oversensitive and I should find more time for myself, join a fitness class or a gym. And that I should stop fussing so much over my daughter.”
April 2019, Wiktor’s mum, Justyna
“How would you describe the fear one experiences when one’s child is thinking of suicide?” I am asking Justyna.
“There is such a thing as a mother’s intuition. I was scared for him every hour, every second,” she says.
By April, she was even afraid to leave for work. She hid all the knives, pills and sharp tools around the house. She called Wiktor every half hour, on any pretext: would he check if there was milk in the fridge or just to chat. She was getting up in the night to peep into his room, checking for breath: was he asleep? She looked out for cuts on his arms.
April 17, 2019, Wiktor and Kacper
That day could not have been easy, either for Wiktor, or Kacper. Wiktor was sitting an English final exam at his primary, Kacper was going with mum to his aunt’s funeral.
Exams started at 9 am. Wiktor’s mum had driven him to school. Immediately after it ended, he texted her that he passed his English “likely with 100 percent.” He erred, but only slightly. Later, when the results were published, they showed Wiktor checking in at 98 percent.
At that hour, Kacper and his mum were already on their way to the funeral. Suddenly, the boy’s eyes welled up. A message from Wiktor appeared on his mobile. He wrote that he was “going somewhere to jump.” Kacper tried to call him, but Wiktor’s phone was not responding. He pulled mum’s sleeve, told her quietly he had to call Wiktor’s mum as soon as possible.
Agnieszka called Justyna, and Justyna called the police.
April 17, 2019, Wiktor
The officers went to Justyna’s, asked for Wiktor’s photo and sent out an alert all over Warsaw. They were to man all the metro stations, hoping to locate him before the tragedy would strike.
Justyna kept calling Wiktor. No signal.
They drove her to the Młociny metro station and suggested that she should take a train down town and try looking for her son as well. She agreed, it was a good idea. She wept.
On the metro train she suddenly heard an announcement: “Due to an accident at Centrum station, the train will terminate at the Dworzec Gdański railway station.” She was shaking, choking, closed her eyes.
She left the crowded train at Stare Bielany, ran to Kacper’s apartment block. Police came there as well to check whether Wiktor had not changed his plans and gone there instead. She saw the officers by the entrance, told them about the announcement on the underground.
They confirmed that “a young woman had fallen under a train” a while ago and was taken by ambulance to the Szaserów hospital. Justyna was required to go there immediately.
Kacper was at his aunt’s funeral, still unaware of what had happened. He could not concentrate in the church, expecting the worst.
Many people arrived late for the service. They apologised, explained they were late because there had been some accident in Warsaw and the underground came to a halt. Agnieszka received a text message during the mass. She could not hear the ringtone and would read it only later. It was from Wiktor: “Please, don’t worry about me anymore. Good bye :)”
April 19, 2019, Wiktor
Wiktor leapt in front of the train on April 17, 2019.
At 10:06 he wrote another text message, to Kaia, an online friend whom he had never met, but with whom he was very closed. He wrote: “I am going to kill myself. I am sorry. Thank you for everything, but I am not coping.”
At 10:52 he sent her a photo of the metro rail track. He jumped a short while later.
Despite extensive injuries, the boy fought for his life for two more days.
A surgeon who operated on him immediately after the incident said it was hard to explain how Wiktor could have survived his suicide attempt. They put him on a respirator in the hospital, operated on his spleen, made preparations to stabilize him. Justyna believed in a miracle.
In the course of a follow-up surgery, Wiktor succumbed to a vast haemorrhage. He died on April 19, a fortnight before his fifteenth birthday.
April 2019, Justyna, Wiktor’s mum
At the end of the month, Justyna received a letter from the District Court. She opened it and could not believe her eyes: it was a decision that, following Wiktor’s suicide attempt, she would be put under supervision. An official would visit her home and periodically check on her to see if she was taking good care of her son.
Justyna read the letter and wept. For several months she was fighting for anyone to take her son’s fate to heart. And when she lost him, this letter suddenly arrived.
She went to the court with Wiktor’s death certificate. Soon, a decision to close the proceedings was announced.
In June, another letter arrived from the court. This time it was more detailed, with personal data of the appointed supervisor and his visiting days to check how Justyna coped with bringing up her child.
She had no strength left to explain. Screw them.
May – December 2019, Kacper
“I was afraid to tell Kacper,” says Agnieszka. “I was horrified he could do the same. That stroll to the metro station, a month after Wiktor’s death, it was a sign of his longing.”
Kacper has not been at Wiktor’s grave yet. He is blocking out his death and usually cuts off any talk of it. But recently, he has had moments when he would start talking about him. Agnieszka still cannot tell whether these are moments of weakness, or the opposite. Then Kacper confides in his mum that he misses him a lot and thinks of him all the time. Once, he said that it was because of him that Wiktor killed himself.
Another time, he admitted that he did not like to be left alone at home. Because he then takes out all Wiktor’s drawings from the cupboard. He cannot stop himself when he is alone. He looks through them and cries. He is suffering, as you would suffer after the loss of the most treasured person.
July 2019, Dr Towalski
That summer, an investigation into Wiktor’s death started. The prosecutor called in Dr Towalski, the same doctor who had written earlier that Wiktor preferred girls, and who recommended sampling snuggling up with a man before sex change surgery.
He said Wiktor’s suicide was the result of introducing ‘gender ideology’ into schools.
In the Autumn, Justyna called the clinic to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. She needed tranquillisers. A nice-sounding receptionist explained that her old doctor had left the practice and all her patients were being taken over by a new psychiatrist.
She offered Justyna an appointment for March 2020.
With Dr Andrzej Towalski.
Prosecutor Jerzy Mierzewski was chain smoking when we met the last time before this article appeared in print. As soon as he put out one, he pulled another from the packet, as if worried that his lungs would lose contact with tobacco.
Journalists know him as a true expert on evil. He was the one who locked up the Pruszków mafia, looked for the killers of Gen. Marek Papała, and it was he who discovered the establishment in Poland of US-sponsored rendering prisons where people were tortured. Now, he was in charge of an investigation into Wiktor’s death.
We meet in one of Warsaw’s coffee bars. There were no free tables in the smokers’ zone. The prosecutor shrugged, he would have to grin and bear.
“I cannot remember a case which would move me more on a human level,” he said for starters. “We are responsible for what has happened. We, adults. We are incapable of recognizing a young human in a child. We have no system of child care. We cannot even initiate a discussion on this! And even the greatest devotion will remain meaningless when hospitals run out of corridor places and, in the end, of doctors, too.”
He would probably have to drop the case. The law gave him no recourse to accuse doctors who refused to admit Wiktor to hospital. They did not because there were no places on the ward. The prosecution would have to extend to the whole of Poland’s psychiatry, or even the state itself. Also, homophobia would have to become a criminal offence.
“Our intolerance, lack of respect for other people’s peculiarities, and the growing cult of force – at some stage all of this adds up into a frightening technological sequence capable even of driving a young person to death,” said the prosecutor.
And added: “We are all guilty.”
In 2019, one of Poland’s newspapers appeared with stickers for readers to peruse, proclaiming a “LGBT Free Zone”. Agnieszka and Justyna watched these developments with an increasingly heavy heart. While Justyna was in mourning, Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski, one of the leaders of the Polish Catholic Church, kept repeating a mantra of a “rainbow plague.”
Wiktor is gone. Justyna lost her child. Kacper is 14 and has already come to know life’s darkest side, he met love in a time of plague.
Poland comes second in European rankings of childhood suicide. We are slightly behind Germany, but only because that country is twice as big as ours.
Data indicates that almost 70 per cent of LGBT teenagers in Poland think of suicide.
“We need to shout out about the state of Poland’s childhood psychiatry,” said the civil rights Ombudsman Adam Bodnar a month before Wiktor’s death.
Dr Andrzej Towalski refused to talk to the author of article. Hospital authorities in Józefów did not reply to our e-mail with questions.