Ukraine buys coal from South Africa after conflict hits mines

Ukraine signed an deal Wednesday with South Africa to buy 1 million metric tons of coal after mining operations were halted due to the spreading armed conflict with separatist rebels.

Due to the disruption, Ukraine needed to buy more coal in order to maintain power output, Bloomberg News reports.

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said during a meeting on Wednesday that the first batch of coal imports from South Africa were being loaded in a port and companies were setting up purchases.

Ukraine is working to cut its dependence on natural gas from Russia after the Kremlin stopped supplies in June.

Roughly half of Ukraine's electricity comes from natural gas and coal, but militants in the Donetsk and Luhansk region have stolen up to 15,000 tons of coal from the country's mines.

Due to Russia's energy stranglehold on Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea, U.S. lawmakers have called on the administration to speed up natural gas exports to Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Obama said the U.S. would continue to "help Ukraine reform" and "diversify its energy sources because no country should ever be held hostage to another nation that wields energy like a weapon."

The U.S. is currently considering another round of stronger sanctions targeting Russia's oil and gas industry operations in the Arctic.