Women are taking up arms on both sides of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Like the men in the conflict, the women come from all walks of life.

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A pro-Russian rebel looks on from a truck as she gets ready to take position near the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport in Donetsk during fighting with Ukrainian government forcesShamil Zhumatov/Reuters

A pro-Russian rebel who gave her name only as Irina for fear of retribution after the conflict, used to work at a petrol station in the town of Gorlovka.

"The fear is always there. But I was more afraid when I was sitting at home and hearing shells fly by. Then I got used to the sound," she said.

Irina has given up many home comforts, but not all. "War is war but somehow I still need to wear make-up," she said, pointing to the cosmetics by the window of her room at a former factory that has been turned into a base.

ukraine women fighters
Irina, formerly a petrol station worker and now a member of a pro-Russian reconnaissance team, poses in the town of Makievka, eastern UkraineShamil Zhumatov/Reuters
ukraine women fighters
The orange and black ribbon of St George, widely associated with pro-Russian protests in Ukraine, is seen among the belongings of IrinaShamil Zhumatov/Reuters

Before the fighting broke out, another woman named Irina was a croupier in a casino who never dreamt of taking up arms. Now she is gambling with her life.

Using the nom de guerre "Gaika", a cartoon character that translates as Gadget, she has joined an artillery unit in a pro-Russian separatist group fighting government forces.

"When your home is being destroyed, everything that is dear to you, friends, work ... It's about character. Girls who go into combat are real Russian women," she said, explaining why she joined up. It has proved a tough experience but she has no regrets.

"Howitzers, large vehicles, the noise is what I will remember most," she said. "Painful memories go away. We try to focus on the positive, joyful, meeting friends. There are so many friends around now, the war is bringing people closer."

ukraine women fighters
Gaika, a former croupier turned pro-Russian rebels' howitzer specialist, poses in the town of Makievka, eastern UkraineShamil Zhumatov/Reuters

Her unit, based outside her hometown of Donetsk, the main rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine, is part of a rebel militia called Oplot and includes six women -- herself, three medics, a fighter and a reconnaissance specialist.

"I had doubts before allowing women in," said their commander Yesaul, a Cossack from the nearby Luhansk region. "But now I actually have more trust in them then in men. Women don't drink and I am sometimes seriously worried seeing my men's condition when they are relaxing after a mission."

ukraine women fighters
A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses in DonetskMarko Djurica/Reuters
ukraine women fighters
A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her rifle in Donetsk, eastern UkraineMarko Djurica/Reuters
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A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her pistol in Luhansk, eastern UkraineMarko Djurica/Reuters
ukraine women fighters
A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her rifle in Donetsk, eastern UkraineMarko Djurica/Reuters
ukraine women fighters
A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her rifle in the town of Nizhnaya Krinka, eastern UkraineMarko Djurica/Reuters

Women are also among the volunteers fighting on the other side of the conflict.

About 10 women have joined the 150-strong Shakhtarsk Battalion fighting alongside government forces and is based in an oak grove about 40 km from the city of Dnipropetrovsk, 250 km (150 miles) from Donetsk.

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A Ukrainian servicewoman poses with a rifle in Horlivka, UkraineDavid Mdzinarishvili/Reuters
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Ukrainian servicewoman Nadie, 36, stands at the military camp in the village of Luhansk, eastern UkraineDavid Mdzinarishvili/Reuters
ukraine women fighters
Stella, 33, a Ukrainian servicewoman, poses in the village of Schastya, near the eastern Ukrainian town of LuhanskDavid Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

On both sides the fighters expect a long conflict, despite the fragile ceasefire now in place.

A red-haired rebel fighter called Alla expects to be fighting for a long time. "So many people, children and women, were killed on our side. Now I don't want a ceasefire," she said.

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Alla, nicknamed Ryzhaya (the red-haired), a pro-Russian rebelShamil Zhumatov/Reuters

She has been with the separatist rebels from the start of the conflict, first serving as a cook on a roadblock. She fired her first training shots at a duck on a river and now has a pistol and an assault rifle.

"Maybe I won't kill many of them but if someone is coming, I will get him," she said.