More than 1,000 firefighters have been sent to extinguish new fires that broke out in the radiation-contaminated area around the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant.
Three new fires broke out on April 16 and were continuing to burn on April 17 but were "not large-scale and not threatening," Ukrainian officials said. Gusty winds fanning the flames have made it harder to put them out.
Volodymyr Demchuk, director of the Emergency Response Department, said in a video statement the “radioactive background” in Kyiv and the Kyiv region “is within normal limits."
Emergency workers aided by rain on April 14 were able to extinguish wildfires burning in the forests near the plant, which has a structure covering its destroyed section.
The earlier fires began on April 3 in the western part of the uninhabited exclusion zone and spread into the forest. They posed no threat to facilities holding radioactive waste, the emergency service said in a statement.
Environmental experts feared that the fires could stir up radioactive ash in the ground, potentially blowing contamination-laden smoke into Kyiv, about 100 kilometers to the north.
But two senior Ukrainian officials on April 17 denied that smoke from forest fires in the radiation-contaminated Chernobyl exclusion zone was blowing into Kyiv, contradicting an earlier statement by the city government.
The head of Ukraine's State Emergency Service, Mykola Chechotkin, told President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on April 17 that "this smell of smoke in Kyiv is in no way related to the fires in the Chernobyl zone."
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov echoed Chechotkin's assessment, saying smoke in Kyiv was not from the vicinity of the devastated Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Avakov said that 90 percent of the smoke in Kyiv was from the Zhytomyr region, near the Chernobyl zone.
Emergency workers used planes and helicopters to help put out the fires earlier this week, but heavy winds prevented them from doing so on April 16, Deputy Interior Minister Anton Herashchenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
The reactor meltdown and explosion at the Chernobyl plant in 1986 sent clouds of nuclear material across much of Europe. It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.