The 2600-square-kilometre Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was established after the 1986 disaster at the plant that sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe. The zone is largely unpopulated, although about 200 people have remained despite orders to leave.
Ukraine’s emergencies service said radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, about 100 kilometres south of the plant, were within norms after the forest fires.
Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic.
“We all remember the lessons of April 26, 1986,” he said in an online statement on Tuesday, Ukraine time. “No one is hiding the truth from you. Right now the truth is that the situation there is under control.”
On Monday, activists warned the blazes were getting dangerously close to waste storage facilities.
Yaroslav Yemelyanenko, a member of the public council under the state agency in charge of the closed zone around the plant, said one fire was raging within 2 kilometres from one of the radioactive waste depots.
Last week, officials said they tracked down a person suspected of triggering the blaze by setting dry grass on fire in the area. The 27-year-old man said he burnt grass “for fun” and then failed to extinguish it when the wind caused it to spread quickly.
On Monday, police said that another local resident burnt waste and accidentally set dry grass ablaze, triggering another devastating forest fire. They said he failed to report the fire to the authorities.
Blazes in the area have been a regular occurrence. They often start when residents set dry grass on fire in the early spring – a widespread practice in Ukraine, Russia and some other ex-Soviet nations that often leads to devastating forest fires.