Women at arms

Women at arms

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Nadie, 36, a Ukrainian servicewoman stationed in Luhanske, is one of many women fighting in the ongoing conflict.

They come from all walks of life - some come to serve with their husbands and boyfriends, others are single. Female fighters on both sides said the men in their units treat them as equals, though sometimes showing more leniency.

. Donetsk, Ukraine. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Irina was a croupier in a casino before the conflict, she never dreamt of taking up arms. Now she uses the nom de guerre "Gaika", a cartoon character that translates as Gadget, and 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.

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."

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.

"If a man has come to fight, he is a man. Real men fight," said Gaika. "Those sitting in the city and sipping beer should put on skirts. It's shameful."

They have little respect for men who have not taken up arms.

. MAKIEVKA, Ukraine. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Another fighter, pictured sitting with a laptop, gave her name only as Irina for fear of retribution after the conflict. She 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.

. MAKIEVKA, Ukraine. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

"War is war but somehow I still need to wear makeup," she said, pointing to the cosmetics by the window of her room at a former factory that has been turned into a base.

The orange ribbon of St. George, a symbol widely associated with pro-Russian protests lies among the mascara, hairbrush and other items.

. DONETSK, Ukraine. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

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.

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.

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Slideshow

33-year-old, Stella, a Ukrainian servicewoman poses for a picture in the village of Schastya, near the eastern Ukrainian town of Luhanske.
. LUHANSKE, Ukraine. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

33-year-old, Stella, a Ukrainian servicewoman poses for a picture in the village of Schastya, near the eastern Ukrainian town of Luhanske.

A Ukrainian servicewoman poses with a gun in Horlivka.
. HORLIVKA, Ukraine. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

A Ukrainian servicewoman poses with a gun in Horlivka.

Ukrainian servicewoman Nadie stands in front of a tank at a military camp in the village of Luhanske, eastern Ukraine.
. LUHANSKE, Ukraine. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Ukrainian servicewoman Nadie stands in front of a tank at a military camp in the village of Luhanske, eastern Ukraine.

A pro-Russian fighter holds a knife as she gets ready to take position near the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport during fighting with Ukrainian government forces in the town of Donetsk.
. Donetsk, Ukraine. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

A pro-Russian fighter holds a knife as she gets ready to take position near the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport during fighting with Ukrainian government forces in the town of Donetsk.

A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her rifle in Donetsk.
. DONETSK, Ukraine. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her rifle in Donetsk.

A pro-Russian fighter poses with her rifle in the town of Nizhnaya Krinka.
. NIZHNAYA KRINKA, Ukraine. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

A pro-Russian fighter poses with her rifle in the town of Nizhnaya Krinka.

A portrait of a pro-Russian fighter with her rifle in Donetsk.
. DONETSK, Ukraine. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

A portrait of a pro-Russian fighter with her rifle in Donetsk.

A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her rifle.
. DONETSK, Ukraine. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her rifle.

A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her pistol in Luhansk.
. LUHANSKE, Ukraine. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

A woman fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels poses with her pistol in Luhansk.

Irina, a member of reconnaissance team of pro-Russian rebels' in the town of Makievka, holds a gun in her hand..
. MAKIEVKA, Ukraine. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Irina, a member of reconnaissance team of pro-Russian rebels' in the town of Makievka, holds a gun in her hand..