A young Belarusian woman who died after attack in Warsaw is laid to rest

Mourners bid farewell to Lizaveta Hertsen, a 25-year-old woman from Belarus who died after being attacked and raped on the streets of the Polish capital, in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday March 14, 2024. The crime has caused shock and indignation among Poles and the many Belarusians and Ukrainians who have sought refuge in Poland in recent years. For many, the crime has cast a light on how women's rights are still not fully protected in the traditionally Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Mourners bid farewell to Lizaveta Hertsen, a 25-year-old woman from Belarus who died after being attacked and raped on the streets of the Polish capital, in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday March 14, 2024. The crime has caused shock and indignation among Poles and the many Belarusians and Ukrainians who have sought refuge in Poland in recent years. For many, the crime has cast a light on how women’s rights are still not fully protected in the traditionally Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A young Belarusian woman who died after being attacked and raped in central Warsaw was laid to rest Thursday, with both loved ones and strangers turning out to mourn the loss of a young woman who had sought a better future in Poland.

Lizaveta Hertsen, 25, was remembered as a woman who had never been on an airplane until she left Belarus a few years ago to begin a new life in Poland, from where she traveled across Europe and found a supportive partner.

At the graveside service, Hertsen’s brother and friends paid silent tribute, refusing to speak to the many journalists who showed up to cover the story that has gripped so many people. A prepared text was read out paying tribute to the woman widely known as Liza, an eyelash stylist who had begun creating knitted caps that she sold.

“We are here because what happened broke our hearts. Most of us gathered here today did not know Liza personally,” a woman who led the ceremony told mourners. “In the face of such a great tragedy, our hearts are filled with despair. We confront what is beyond our control. … It could have been any of us.”

She described how Liza and her brother came from a troubled home but would sit together over tea and dream about a future filled with happiness and love.

The crime has caused shock and indignation among Poles and the many Belarusians and Ukrainians who have sought refuge in Poland in recent years. For many, the crime has cast a light on how women’s rights are still not fully protected in the traditionally Roman Catholic nation.

Female pallbearers dressed in white carried the white casket holding Hertsen to her final resting place in a Warsaw cemetery. Mourners wept and threw white roses and white rose petals onto her white casket in the freshly dug grave.

Hertsen died in a hospital on March 1, several days after she was attacked on her way home at night.

Warsaw police said the attacker approached his victim from behind and put a knife to her throat. Choking the woman and covering her mouth, he forcefully dragged her to a nearby gateway.

Polish media reported that there were witnesses who did not stop to help. She was found naked and unconscious early on the morning of Feb. 25.

The crime was especially shocking to many because it happened in an exclusive neighborhood in a city where such brutal attacks are extremely rare.

A 23-year-old man identified only as Dorian S. was detained by police for the attack hours later. He has been charged with attempted murder, sexual assault and robbery. The suspect cannot be further identified under Polish privacy laws unless convicted, and Polish media have reported that he has refused representation by a lawyer.

In recent years, the Polish capital has become a hub for Belarusians fleeing repression and Ukrainians fleeing war.

Last week, women’s rights activists from the three countries organized a memorial march for Hertsen.

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