As a gay man growing up in Russia, books were Vladimir Kosarevsky’s refuge, offering him a precious glimpse into lives that in some way echoed his own. So when the Moscow librarian received orders late last year to destroy books referencing same-sex relationships – part of a sweeping attack on gay and transgender rights – Kosarevsky knew it was a line he wouldn’t cross. “I realised that if I did it, I would never ever be able to forgive myself,” Kosarevsky told the Guardian from northern Spain, where he is claiming asylum. “It had always been important to me to see those heroes in books, because it represents you somehow. It makes you visible, even when the politics in Russia are determined to erase you.” Kosarevsky, who at the time was the manager of Moscow’s Anna Akhmatova library, decided to ignore the orders. Instead, he began hiding books, loading them into boxes that he tucked away at the library.