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.

ukraine women fighters
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 forces Shamil 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.

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 Ukraine Shamil 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."

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.

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.

ukraine womwn fighters
Alla, nicknamed Ryzhaya (the red-haired), a pro-Russian rebel Shamil 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.